Chicago Teachers Prepare for Contract Battle

April 1, 2003

In Chicago, and in school districts all across the country, the conditions of public school teachers are getting worse. Salaries are going down while class size and workloads keep increasing.

During the decade of the 1990's teachers' salaries barely kept pace with inflation and fell, on average, 30% compared to workers with similar education and work experience. By the year 2000, the average salary for teachers was $41,820/year while accountants averaged $52,323/year, buyers were paid $57,035/year, engineers received $72,427/year and lawyers got $77,150/year.

In the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), during the 1990's teachers saw their salaries decline dramatically compared not only to other professionals but also to teachers in other major cities. For example, in 1990-01, the pay of beginning teachers in Chicago ranked 6th in the country. But by 2000-01, Chicago teachers' pay had fallen to 22nd place.

Veteran teachers in the CPS find their salaries are as much as $25,000 to $35,000 less than teachers in neighboring districts. For example, while the top pay for Chicago teachers (both elementary and high school) is $65,700/year, New Lenox elementary teachers earn nearly $91,000/year and high school teachers in Deerfield/Highland Park are paid $99,800/year.

As new contract negotiations begin in Chicago, the Board of Education is already crying "poverty" and claiming that it "cannot afford" to offer a decent pay raise to the teachers.

But everyone knows that the government has more than enough money. The real question is one of priorities. Shouldn't a top priority be guarantying the best possible educational system and a decent livelihood for teachers? It seems that Chicago teachers have to prepare for a stern contract struggle in order to teach the government its proper priorities.