During the course of several weeks, people on both sides of the aisle in the potential Chicago Teachers Union strike have met more than 40 times to iron out differences, and the result has been little progress.
Despite the constant dialogue, and agreements on several small topics, the city of Chicago and Chicago Teachers Union remain at odds on several key issues that prompted union members to seek a strike vote. The potential strike will happen on Oct. 17 if both sides don't reach an agreement.
The Chicago Public Schools and Mayor Lori Lightfoot put forth a final contract offer on Friday, which the CTU called "half-baked," and said the city "essentially passed an ultimatum and then walked out."
Although pay and benefits remain points of contention, CTU President Jesse Sharkey contended the teachers' driving concerns were classroom and learning conditions.
Several key points including the city's and union's stances are outlined below:
A top priority, the CTU said, is reducing average class sizes which it claims are the highest in the state.
Nearly 25% of Chicago Public Schools classrooms are overcrowded, CTU members said. Teachers have demanded a cap of 24 students for elementary classrooms and 28 students for middle and high school classes.
According to a report by the CTU, some classes were recently in excess of 40 students, including one kindergarten classroom in Englewood that had 42 students. Current CPS policy limits elementary classrooms to 28 students, and puts the limit at 31 students for middle and high schools.
However, Illinois is one of 14 states without class limits, and the CTU claims the policies aren't enforced.
"Some of us have 37 to 43 students, and last year, some of us had as many as 56 students in our classrooms," teacher Gabriella Heim said. "This fight is about so much more than benefits and pay..."
Heim added that adequate staffing will "ensure that each student gets the opportunities they deserve."
Teachers are also seeking terms of their working conditions in writing, specifically staffing, class sizes and schedules to the academic calendar. CPS Superintendent Dr. Janice Jackson said the district agreed to expand resources to support "a small number of overcrowded classrooms."
In its latest contract officer, CPS offered $1 million to address the overcrowding, but the CTU said the funds would be barely enough money to hire two dozen teacher assistants and teachers.
The district previously agreed to invest $10 million to provide additional staffing, and as a result, help alleviate overcrowding.
Need for more employees
Teachers have repeatedly pointed to a need for more social workers and nurses in schools. Sharkey, the CTU president, said that most schools only have a nurse one day a week. He also added teachers "deal with students with lots of trauma," pointing to a need for social workers.
Dr. Jackson, the CPS superintendent, mentioned a shortage in nursing and social workers statewide and asked for "the latitude and the flexibility to actually field those positions."
"We can't say we're going to open 500 positions tomorrow because the talent pool just doesn't exist," Dr. Jackson said.
As part of a comprehensive five-year plan, CPS budgeted funds to hire 95 new employees for the new school year. Dr. Jackson also said the district committed to hiring hundreds of social workers, nurses and case managers, and dedicated $400,000 per year toward staffing for the positions.
In a news release, the CTU pointed out that $400,000 is a "fraction of a hundredth of a percent of the district's budget."
CTU members have also asked for additional librarians to be hired.
The CPS contract offer included a 16% raise, which would put the average teacher salary at nearly $100,000 within the next five years. However, teachers have requested a 15% raise over three years.
Union members contended the school district's wage offer would "still leave the majority of teaching assistants and school clerks mired in poverty in year five of the contract." CPS has refused to restore prep time for elementary school teachers that former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unilaterally eliminated, the CTU said.
The school district has agreed to eliminate co-insurance for mental health visits on PPO and reduce co-pays by 50% on HMO mental health services, and 33% on HMO and PPO physical therapy, according to a new release. The CTU said the proposed overall increase remains the same, adding that the offer ignores the fact that CPS health insurance costs have been flat since 2014.