Charter school teachers at Passages Elementary School, a one-site charter that serves primarily immigrant and refugee students, voted unanimously to authorize a strike, setting the stage for the fourth charter teacher walkout in Chicago in less than a year.
The Passages vote, announced at a press conference held at the school on Monday afternoon following the vote, sets the nation’s third-largest school district up for a record level of labor unrest in the new school year, following a busy winter and spring. Chicago’s public school teachers are taking strike authorization votes this week, and the union that represents special education aides and custodians voted overwhelmingly to walk out if negotiators don’t reach a deal.
Forty Passages teachers are asking for higher wages — the union says some staff earn less than $35,000 a year while a 2017 tax form shows the head of Asian Human Services, the non-profit that runs the school, makes nearly $250,000 a year.
“Why do we have to fight to make a salary on par with educators at other Chicago schools?” said Mike Scott-Rudnick, who has taught at Passages for seven years. “Why do we have to fight to make sure teachers can eat their lunch in the middle of the day?”
They also say that the school, which promises small class sizes, can’t adequately provide special education or English instruction for newcomer students, who speak multiple languages. Teachers also want contract language that includes sanctuary protections for immigrant students.
Last school year, Chicago saw three charter teachers strikes at various networks. In most of them, teachers won changes after walking out. At Acero schools, which last winter saw the first-ever charter teacher strike in the country, teachers won pay raises, a class size cap, a shorter school year, and language in the contract declaring schools off-limits to immigration officers.
About 420 students attend Passages, a Level-2 plus school based in Edgewater which offers pre-K through eighth grade instruction to a mostly immigrant and refugee student body. Nearly 70% are from low-income families, and 38% are English language learners.
Asian Human Services, based in the Uptown neighborhood, also offers health care and counseling services to immigrants. Passages boasts a longer school day, small class sizes and a chance for students to connect to the organization’s many social services.
Since opening in 2001, Passages has received a city grant to open an early learning center, where it now offers full-day pre-kindergarten, but wasn’t able to win community or city support for a new high school.
The school’s employees voted to unionize with ChiACTS Local 4343, which later joined the Chicago Teachers Union, in April 2016. It narrowly averted a strike in May 2017. Then in 2018, the school laid off half of its paraprofessionals, according to the union.
Asian Human Services did not respond to a request for comment.