400,000 students in Chicago are enjoying an unexpected day off today as the city’s teachers are on strike. Despite having the country’s highest average salaries, $71,000 per year before benefits, the Chicago teachers have rejected a deal that over the next four years includes a 16% pay raise worth more than $4oo million because the “offer of raises over the next four years does not fairly compensate them”.

The union’s primary contentions are over teacher evaluations being tied to student test scores and being compensated additionally for a longer work day. Regarding teacher evaluations, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis says, “Evaluate us on what we do, not on the lives of our children we do not control.” Apparently in the business of teaching, results do not matter. As for the work day, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are “among the shortest in the nation at 5.5 hours,” yet the teachers are paid more than anywhere else. CPS breaks down the new 7.5 hour work day, which includes a paid lunch, in this way:

On average teachers will provide 5.5 hours of instruction (an increase of 54 minutes), receive a 45-minute duty-free lunch and 60-minute prep period and supervise the passing period. They will also be required to be on-site for 10 minutes before and after school.

Let’s examine how much the Chicago teachers actually make compared to someone who works a standard 40 hour week, 52 weeks per year, or 2,080 total hours. The current schedule requires a 5.5 hours per day and, in Illinois, students are required to be in school for 176 days. If we take 5.5 hours X 176 days / $71,000 annually, we find that on average, Chicago teachers make $73.35 per hour or would make $152,562 if they were to work at their hourly rate for a standard 2,080 hours.

Under the new proposal, teachers would work 7.5 hours. However, since most people aren’t paid to take lunch (note, it is “duty-free”, as in not supervising children eating), we will calculate based upon a 6.75 hour work day. Therefore, with 6.75 hours X 176 days / $71,000 annually, we find that on average, Chicago teachers would make $59.76 per hour or would make $124,310 under the new proposal if they were to work at their hourly rate for a standard 2,080 hours.

There certainly is a fair debate regarding whether this is an appropriate level of compensation, especially when seen in light of CPS facing a $1 billion deficit this year and general market competitiveness with CPS teachers being the highest paid in the nation. However, when you look at the true reduced wages of the teachers, which on average is the equivalent of $28,252 per year (yes, people’s time has value, including the longer work day and summer vacation), it becomes easy to see the union’s position against the new contract.

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