Brian Harris Credit: Courtesy, Chicago ACTS

 As a special education teacher at a charter school, I’ve followed with great concern over the past few weeks as the Chicago Sun-Times has exposed how the management of the United Neighborhood Organization directed millions of dollars of public funds to political supporters, family members and well-connected businesses. Every dollar of waste or graft is a dollar siphoned from a student’s education. No Chicago teacher can stand the idea of this.

At UNO, I’ve heard of teachers working average of 10 hours a day with minimal preparatory periods and only three 25 minute duty-free lunches a week at pay that is 20% less than the average teacher in Chicago. They have few protections on the job and teachers have reported being fired for breathing a hint of criticism at UNO’s CEO Juan Rangel. He, in contrast, is paid many times his average teacher, making over $200,000 a year for running 13 schools, while Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett makes nearly as much for operating an entire district of over 600 schools.

This state of affairs contributes to the extreme turnover of teachers at UNO, where over half the educators leave every two years.

Additionally, students are often taught in over-crowded classrooms that average 15% larger than all of CPS, despite UNO’s contention that their school expansion will help ease overcrowding. This is unjust and unsustainable for the teachers and their schools’ community.

Imagine an UNO where management did not squander tax-payer dollars on political favoritism and clout and instead invested that money in educational programs, retaining staff, lower class sizes and serving the people who learn and work in their schools. If UNO educators had a union they could feel able to question the cronyism that is rampant throughout the organization and insist that resources be directed to where they belong, their classrooms. 

UNO teachers must be empowered to speak out. Almost four years ago, my colleagues and I founded the first charter school teachers union in Chicago and we’ve been growing ever since. Our union has grown to represent over 350 teachers in just three years.  I am proud to have the ability to speak out about issues that impact my colleagues and our students in Chicago’s charter schools and I believe all teachers should have the same opportunity.  UNO teachers, contact Chicago ACTS and let’s talk about how you can affect change at UNO.

Brian Harris

President, Chicago Alliance of Charter Teaches and Staff, Local 4343, IFT-AFT, AFL-CIO

Special Education Teacher, CICS Northtown Academy

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