Sept. 20–Despite little ink to show for it in the final contract, Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools officials say they spent a significant amount of time negotiating over charter schools and Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 program during talks in August.

Yet only one provision—the formation of a new committee to look into new models for Renaissance 2010 performance schools—directly addresses the mayor’s controversial new schools program.

Behind the scenes, however, the union’s opposition to charters appears to be changing, just as it steps up efforts to unionize charters.

For one, the School Board’s lead negotiator, Charles Rose, says the union agreed to work with CPS to increase charter schools. Plans for a signed pact, however, were dropped.

Meanwhile, CTU President Marilyn Stewart recently sent a letter to Steve Barr, founder of the unionized Green Dot charter schools in California, asking for a chance to visit the group’s Los Angeles schools and, as Barr puts it, “kick the tires.”

Green Dot is currently working with New York City’s teachers union (also an American Federation of Teachers affiliate, as is the CTU) on a bid to open a jointly-run charter school in the Big Apple. Some charter insiders speculate a similar move may take place in Chicago.

“That’s news to me,” Barr says.

In a written response to questions from Catalyst about the charter agreement with the district, the union said: “There is an understanding between the Board and CTU to explore ways to place teacher-led, unionized schools at the forefront of educational reform in Chicago. What the CTU supports is a return to the type of unionized charter schools envisioned by the former AFT President Albert Shanker, where teachers have a real voice in education reform.”

One state legislator who works closely with the union says she suspects CTU leaders, pleased with their new contract, will be more open to charter expansion.

“I do believe there will be more discussion,” says Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago).

Davis says she will not try again to push legislation capping the number of charter campuses (distinct schools run by the same charter operator) allowed under some Chicago charters. A campus-cap bill she pushed last year died in the House amid tepid support.

At this point, little about future charter legislation is clear.

Senate President Emil Jones Jr. (D-Chicago) a leading advocate of charter expansion, says he’s not aware of renewed efforts by CPS to increase the charter cap.

Last spring, he spearheaded negotiations with the CTU and its statewide affiliate, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which resulted in a proposal for 15 new CPS charters. The legislation died amid end-of-session budget negotiations in August, which coincided with union contract talks.

Pressure from outside?

In a written response to questions about Green Dot, the CTU said: “President Stewart is interested in exploring the Green Dot model that is improving schools in California. Our sister Union in New York has written a proposal with Green Dot to open a union charter school in the near future. CTU officials will be visiting Green Dot schools in the coming months to determine if the Green Dot model would be effective in Chicago.”

CTU’s interest in Green Dot may be a result of pressures emanating from the larger union movement, according to John Ayers, vice president of strategic partnerships for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and a longtime observer of union-charter politics.

Ayers says the Service Employees International Union, whose members are the working-class parents who often need better schools and want more charters, has pressured local teachers unions to work with charter school advocates. In fact, he suggests that SEIU’s recent efforts to start a local “parent union” in Chicago, essentially an organizing tool for boosting parents’ impact on school policy, could be a first stab at pressuring local decision makers to craft unionized charters; not just in Chicago, Ayers notes, but also in some of the region’s working-class suburbs.

SEIU representatives were not available for comment.

Political question marks aside, one concrete move did materialize in the new CTU-CPS contract: Both parties agreed to establish a joint committee that will hammer out a set of new models for CPS performance schools. Rose says recommendations will be made by mid-November.

The move should make it easier for CPS to open more performance schools, which employ CTU-represented teachers, under Renaissance 2010. That would be a boon for the union, as the district has so far opened non-unionized charter schools at a clip nearly twice that of performance schools.

The new models might include built-in waivers of the CTU contract for longer school days or year-round schooling, according to Rose.

Springfield correspondent Aaron Chambers contributed to this report.

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