Bill, giving negotiation rights to Chicago school principals, is escorted to the governor’s desk

Bill, giving negotiation rights to Chicago school principals, is escorted to the governor’s desk

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A bill giving principals of Chicago public schools collective bargaining rights passed the Illinois Senate on Friday morning and now only needs the governor’s signature to become law.

The bill, passed with bipartisan support by a vote of 45 to 7, would recognize a Chicago principals’ and vice principals’ union and put them before senior district leadership for contract negotiations. The law, if enacted, would not allow a principals’ union to go on strike.

A statement from Gov. JB Pritzker’s office on Friday said, “The governor looks forward to reviewing it now that it’s on his desk.”

If the bill is signed and Chicago principals are able to move forward with a bargaining unit, they will join districts like New York City, San Diego and Denver where principals are unionized. Denver school leaders unionized in 2020.

School principals have fought for years for the right to union representation, arguing that they are in no man’s land, without a say in broad district politics and unable to collectively negotiate their working conditions.

The bill would not strip local school boards of the power to hire principals or decide whether or not to renew their contracts.

Troy LaRaviere, a former CPS director and president of the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association since 2016, has been a strong advocate for union organizing for years. He said the finish line is the governor’s signature, “but we’ve gone further than we came before.” Similar bills have been introduced before, only to fail in one chamber or another.

“I’ve put 40 years of my life into this,” LaRaviere said in an interview on Friday.

He has said that school leaders know most about schools and need more say in discussions. He has also argued that school principals are underpaid given the hours they are expected to work.

A principals’ union would aim to protect administrators’ time and refocus their efforts on running a school, rather than “spend the whole day filling one district mandate after another and being an overpaid employee.”

“During the pandemic, principals spent most of their time tracing contacts, not solving problems, not coaching teachers, not hiring the best and brightest — contact tracing, something that should be handled by the CPS bureaucracy,” he said he.

Administrators also want a say in district-wide policies and better pay and benefits. The median salary for all assistant principals and principals this year is $139,541. This includes interim, acting, and permanent administrators.

“We will definitely try to establish a compensation model that attracts and retains the best educators,” LaRaviere said, citing the many hours that administrators put into their jobs.

LaRaviere also noted that his organization wanted the no-strike provision to be included in the bill. “We wanted to make it clear that we want cooperation and not conflict,” he said, adding that there had never been a principal’s strike.

Chicago public schools have not opposed the bill in the Senate, LaRaviere said, although the school district has opposed it in the past.

CPAA membership was optional for school administrators. The organization provides legal support and attorneys on behalf of clients. It is an affiliate of the American Federation of School Administrators and the AFL-CIO. But Illinois law identified school principals as managers and barred managers from collective bargaining. Therefore, principals and deputy principals did not have an exclusive bargaining entity representing them.

Under the law, principals would be reclassified from managers to supervisors, a distinction based on the fact that principals do not negotiate collective bargaining agreements with labor unions such as the Chicago Teachers Union.

The CPAA will not immediately become the client’s exclusive negotiating agent – a vote may need to take place to make this official. However, LaRaviere expects that to happen quickly and hopes that CPS will voluntarily recognize a principals’ union.

“We hope to use our seat at the table to improve conditions for school leaders and students,” he said.

Nader Issa is the education reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. Sarah Karp covers the training for WBEZ. The Sun-Times’ Lauren FitzPatrick contributed to this story.

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