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Teachers at 5 charter schools set strike date

The latest batch of unionized Chicago charter school teachers could go on strike next week barring a breakthrough in contract negotiations.

Chicago Teachers Union leaders on Thursday announced they’ll picket May 1 if deals aren’t reached for the educators at five privately managed, publicly funded schools on the South and West Sides: Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy, Instituto Justice Leadership Academy, Chicago High School for the Arts, Latino Youth High School and Youth Connection Leadership Academy.

Teachers say they’re vying to raise their wages in line with their Chicago Public Schools counterparts, and to enhance staffing of nurses, social workers and counselors.

“We’re demanding that charters’ public funds go to public services,” Instituto Health Sciences teacher Mihir Garud said at a CTU rally outside the Arturo Velazquez Westside Technical Institute. “We’re demanding equal pay for equal work.”

Teacher Mihir Garud speaks Thursday at a CTU rally near 28th and Western. | Mitchell Armentrout/Sun-Times

Instituto officials issued a statement saying they’re “hopeful” the sides will hammer out a deal before a potential work stoppage.

“IHSCA and IJLA are disappointed that the CTU has chosen to announce this strike while we are making progress at the negotiating table,” the charter operator said. “The bargaining teams at IHSCA and IJLA will continue to work with the CTU to present proposals that ensure the best interest of our students, a fair contract for our teachers and staff and a financially sustainable future for our schools.”

If a strike does happen, Instituto leaders said they’re “working on a contingency plan that will continue to provide a safe and engaging place [for students] to go.”

Close to 1,800 students could be affected if the roughly 130 educators picket at all five charter schools. CTU charter division chair Chris Baehrend said teachers at four ASPIRA network schools have also authorized a strike but have not yet set a date.

The charter educators could be joined in the picket line by 450 unionized clerical and technical staffers at the City Colleges of Chicago, who announced a joint May 1 strike date at the same CTU rally. The IFT Local 1708 members have been working on an expired contract for three years.

“We need to be paid a living wage,” said Delores Withers, president of the Federation of College Clerical and Technical Personnel. “It’s just morally wrong, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

The potential strike would be the third work stoppage to hit Chicago charters this school year. The nation’s first-ever charter teacher strike lasted four days in December in the Acero network, and Chicago International Charter School teachers made similar gains following their nine-day strike in February.

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