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Pushing back against budget cuts

by Jackie Charles - Darwin Elementary  |  07/28/2017

In the summer of 2016, Darwin Elementary was faced with a budget cut like most other schools in the city. Our principal did what he thought was best to preserve programming, but there was significant disagreement among staff about how funds in the budget should be spent. We didn't have a functioning Professional Personnel Leadership Committee (PPLC) at the time, so staff had no clear way to give input on the budget. Consequently, the principal chose to cut the school's full-time, award-winning music teacher. 

In order to provide homeroom teachers with their contractual preparation periods, the principal contracted martial arts instructors to come into the school a few days a week. This move saved money by eliminating a teacher who cost the school $85,000 in salary and benefits, and replacing him with non-certified, non-union, part-time instructors who would get paid about $27,000 over the course of the year. 

Our principal hired more part-time, non-certified, non-union instructors for music classes two days a week to continue to offer our students music education. Since state law says students must be in front of a certified teacher at least 300 minutes a day, we had to change our schedules to make sure students wouldn't have martial arts andmusic in the same day. To avoid a second grievance, the principal scheduled certified teachers to be in the room with the non-certified instructors as if they are Arts Partners—even though they aren't. 

While I'm happy that my school's students are receiving non-academic enrichment programming, they are ultimately getting the short end of the stick. The non-certified instructors have little or no training in classroom management, developmentally appropriate teaching or vertical alignment of curriculum. The use of these instructors threatens teaching as a profession by setting a pattern that allows anyone— however limited their training or experience—to come in and teach our classes. And this practice undermines the living wage job market by replacing a full-time job with benefits with part-time, temporary work with no benefits. 

Our situation at Darwin is a direct violation of our contract. Our grievance is still going through the appeals process, and I hope we can serve as the precedent to ensure that this doesn't happen again at Darwin or at other schools. The district shouldn't be lengthening the school day if it can't afford it. The district shouldn't be waiting until the middle of the summer to give schools their budgets, forcing schools to make rash, pressurized decisions without the input of stakeholders. 

I urge you to make sure you have a functioning PPLC before the end of the year that can weigh in on budget decisions over the summer. At the very least, make sure a contingent of teachers, PSRPs and clinicians attend summer Local School Council meetings about your school's budget.

Don't stand for part-time, non-certified, non-union workers being hired by your schools. I'm sure my principal wasn't the only one to hire non-certified instructors to teach our students, but I want him to be the last.

Chicago Teachers Union