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UNO Charter Schools Cut 55 Teachers and Staff

By Linze Rice | August 11, 2016 11:28am | Updated on August 12, 2016 11:32am
 UNO Charter Schools opened a Rogers Park location in 2012 on the former campus of St. Scholastica Academy.
UNO Charter Schools opened a Rogers Park location in 2012 on the former campus of St. Scholastica Academy.
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DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard

WEST RIDGE — UNO Charter Schools Network boss Richard Rodriguez has told employees that 55 positions have been eliminated for the upcoming school year in the wake of "significant" budget cuts by Chicago Public Schools. 

The cuts mean 29 (28.5 union members and one part-time position) teachers would be fired, United Educators of UNO, the union representing UCSN teachers, said in a statement. Seven were graduate support advisors who help students transition from middle to high school.

According to the Sun-Times, at least one of those support advisors, as well as a counselor and technology helpdesk position, were cut from the UCSN school in Rogers Park on the border of West Ridge at 7416 N. Ridge Blvd.

The other 20 positions included vacant job openings as well as some "nonschool-based" roles, Rodriguez wrote in an email to employees sent last week.

One UCSN special education teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job, said some of the other positions cut included technology staff. 

A UCSN representative told DNAinfo people at its administrative office have been laid off as well, and that there had been 15 re-hires of those who received pink slips, "primarily teachers and counselors."

UCSN runs 15 schools with more than 8,000 students.

Rodriguez, UCSN's CEO, said the downsizing came after the charter school network was "notified by CPS of significant budget cuts" and eliminating vacancies and layoffs were the result of "some difficult decisions to ensure our fiscal stability."

"Despite budget constraints, we are confident that we have a strong team, comprehensive academic offerings, and the right resources to achieve another successful school year," UNO said in an emailed statement Thursday.​

In a message to union members, union officials said the cuts were unnecessary. The message — signed by Christine Iannantone, the union's president; Andrew Crooks, the interim secretary/treasurer and Erica Stewart, a media relations representative — suggested other trims in spending that would have prevented the layoffs. 

Those unnecessary expenses include spending in the downtown office, requiring "master teachers" at each campus, 500 new blazers for all teachers and out of town trips, the union said. The charter school network's separation from UNO Inc. resulted in another $4 million in savings, the message said.

"Despite these suggestions, UCSN went ahead and cut positions," the email said. 

A representative for UCSN said when the organization spun out of its founding group, UNO, last year it needed its own space and that wearing blazers as part of its dress code "has always been part of our school’s heritage."

"The staff previously wore blazers with the UNO logo," a UCSN rep told DNAinfo. "They were replaced with plain blue blazers last year and there were no additional costs this year in either category other than blazers for new teachers."

Further, the union alleges the network's budget woes are "exaggerated and inaccurate" and allowed UCSN to forgo stipulations in the teachers' contract that requires advance notice to those being laid off.

In July, the union extended its contract by 60 days to keep negotiating with UCSN after delays through the spring, according to emails. The contract expires Oct. 2.

Over the summer, UCSN had proposed pay cuts at all but one salary step schedule while decreasing longevity bonuses and retirement contributions and increasing health insurance premiums by 50 percent, according to the union.

UCSN's proposal also sought to freeze and cap salaries with no annual increases, though "new staff are paid any salary UCSN chooses to pay," the July union update email said. Three paid leave days were also proposed to be slashed.

Participation in after-school coaching was "both mandatory and uncompensated at the elementary level."

A representative for the teachers union were not immediately available for comment.

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