Expressing disappointment that the Chicago Teachers Union would call a strike just days before the end of a difficult school year, officials at Urban Prep Academies said Tuesday that administrators will supervise students in the classroom as they take their final exams.
“The reality is that we have a tough road ahead to recover from the pandemic and the toll it has taken on our young men, both academically and socially-emotionally,” said Troy Boyd, the charter schools’ chief operating officer. “This strike is not in the best interest of our students, particularly during the last six days of school after more than a year of COVID-related school disruption.”
To minimize the impact of the teachers strike, which began Monday, Boyd said Urban Prep has arranged for students at its three campuses — Englewood, Bronzeville and West — to complete the academic year as scheduled and take final exams under the supervision of administrators.
“Parents have expressed confusion and concerns. ... They’re wondering if graduation is taking place, and what will happen with final exams,” Boyd said. “We’ve let parents know we plan to finish off the school year without a hitch, and with the teachers strike having as little impact as possible to their students.”
Urban Prep and CTU met with a federal mediator until 11 p.m. Monday, returned to the bargaining table Tuesday morning and were scheduled resume negotiations Tuesday evening, Boyd said, adding the main unresolved issue is the term of the contract.
But several Urban Prep teachers and CTU President Jesse Sharkey said at a Tuesday news conference they’re also frustrated by what they described as the charter high school networks’ years of financial mismanagement and lack of support for special education students.
“I’m hopeful Urban Prep will hear our voices and understand that we’re here for these young men, and everything we’ve been doing the last few days and these last few months is in the best interest of our students,” said Natasha Robinson, a West Campus English teacher.
CTU officials said among the “sticking points” is “Urban Prep’s refusal to enshrine students’ special education rights in enforceable contract language, and management’s insistence on an extended period to fire educators even if highly qualified, despite the charter operator’s notoriously high teacher turnover rate.”
Union officials said teachers are also frustrated by “troubling financial practices at Urban Prep, whose CEO makes nearly as much to run just three schools as CPS’s CEO earns to oversee more than 500 schools.”
Public records show that Urban Prep CEO Tim King’s salary declared on an Urban Prep 2019-20 tax forms show he earned $220,000 at that time, while Chicago Public School’s departing CEO Janice Jackson’s salary was bumped up in December from $260,000 to $300,000.
The CTU was also critical of what it claimed is Urban Prep’s “history of resorting to payday loan terms to finance school operations — even though CPS provides Urban Prep the same funding as other charter and district run schools.”
In addition, CTU officials said Urban Prep has received around $3 million in forgivable COVID-19 PPP loans,” yet teachers say “they see no evidence that those funds have been invested in educational needs.”
A litany of concerns about the charter high school’s financial management were spelled out in a letter sent by the CTU Tuesday to Jackson, the CPS Board of Education and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, with union officials calling for an “urgent investigation into fiscal irregularities and troubling financial practices.”
But Boyd, with Urban Prep, said officials at the charter high school remain focused on negotiating and achieving a fair teachers contract, and ensuring students can finish the last few days of the school year with as little disruptions as possible.
“We’ve been incredibly transparent with them about our finances and opened our books,” Boyd said. “It’s not something we’re fearful of, because we’re confident everything we’ve been doing is above board.”
Urban Prep, which enrolls mostly Black young men at three public charter high schools in “high-need communities” in Chicago, debuted in Englewood in 2006, and claims an unbroken streak of every graduate being accepted to a four-year college.