Residency requirement riles teachers

  • Medill News Service
  • March 05, 2007 @ 7:34 AM
Cassie Jaworski is something of a reluctant Chicagoan.

It's not that she doesn't like the city, but she said she could see herself living in the suburbs -- where the housing dollar goes much further -- if her job teaching in the Chicago Public School system didn't require her to reside in the city.

"The cost of real estate in the city of Chicago has skyrocketed," she said.

Now she's living in a 1,000-square-foot condo instead of a four-bedroom house, which she said she could have afforded in Westchester, a western suburb.

The Chicago Board of Education requires all employees hired after 1996 to be Chicago residents. But the growing number of charter schools in Chicago, which don't require their employees to live in the city, has sparked a renewed effort by the Chicago Teachers Union to repeal the requirement.

Around the country it's common for cities to require their police officers and firefighters to live within the city limits, but enforcing a residency requirement for teachers is rare. Out of the 50 biggest school districts, only Chicago and Milwaukee have a residency requirement for teachers, according to a 2006 report by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

A proposed law in the Illinois House of Representatives would get rid of the requirement, giving teachers like Jaworski more housing options -- and expanding the pool of applicants for teaching positions, according to the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Marlow Colvin, a Democrat from Chicago's South Side.

He said the residency requirement works against the district's goal of attracting the best teachers. Getting rid of the residency requirement "won't be the savior, but I do believe that it will help … simply by creating a larger pool of qualified applicants."

State Rep. Sandra Pihos, a Glen Ellyn Republican and a chief co-sponsor of the bill, said the law would bring more opportunities to teachers, and would-be teachers, in her west suburban district.

"Some of them would actually like to teach in Chicago, but they don't want to live in Chicago," she said. "So they don't even apply."

Lobbyist for the Chicago Teachers Union Pam Massarsky has been trying to persuade lawmakers to support the bill.

She said it isn't fair to require teachers at Chicago Public schools to live in the city when charter school teachers can live anywhere they want

Charter schools are part of the public school system but are operated by private organizations that contract with the district and have a higher degree of autonomy. Because their employees aren't hired by the board of education, they aren't subject to the residency requirement.

The freedom to hire teachers who live in the suburbs gives charters an advantage in attracting quality teachers, said Michael Milkie, superintendent and chief operating officer of Noble Network of Charter Schools.

That's a claim Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools Arne Duncan disputes.

He said even with the residency requirement, plenty of teachers apply for openings – he said about 10 applications come in for each available position.

"Chicago is a great, great city to live [in], we're trying to make it a great city to teach in," Duncan said.

Duncan said the district looks out for the interest of its students by letting teachers of "special need" subjects like math, science and special education waive the residency requirement. Offering waivers for teachers who are in high demand, Duncan said, creates a level playing field for charters and regular public schools when it comes to hiring the best teachers.

But according to district spokesman Mike Vaughn, only 78 waivers have been issued since July of 1996, a period in which the district has hired about 2,100 teachers. That means less than 4 percent have permission to live in the suburbs.

Statistics from several Chicago charter schools show that a much greater ratio of charter school employees choose to live outside of Chicago.

A spokeswoman for the Noble Network of Charter Schools said 20 percent of its 105 employees are not Chicago residents. The numbers are similar at the five charter campuses run by the United Neighborhood Organization. Statistics for five of the 10 campuses operated by Chicago International Charter School show that 32 percent of their employees live outside the city.

But it's likely that a great many more Chicago Public School teachers are living outside the city on the sly. According to current and former Chicago Public School teachers, it's not that hard to give the district a fake city address and live in the suburbs.

Out of about 17 teachers at her school, Jaworski said she knows a few use fake addresses to get around the requirement.

Massarsky said the residency requirement is especially rough on new teachers, a group that the district has said it is making efforts to retain. She said if the effort to repeal the residency requirement outright runs aground, she'll push for a law that at least exempts untenured teachers.

It takes four years in the district to get tenure, but teachers have to live in the city within six months of being hired.

"How do you force someone to move into the city when you can't guarantee that they'll have a job next month?" Massarsky said.