In Chicago There’s a Border Patrol for Teachers, Too

I’ve written extensively about the school district practice of enforcing residency requirements for students, most recently a couple of weeks ago. The techniques used include private investigators and surveillance, sometimes to a disturbing degree.

Some might feel this is a small price to pay to ensure that only district residents attend district schools, but there is a place where the same rules hold true for teachers: Chicago.

Chicago is one of the last large districts to require teachers and other employees to physically reside within the city limits. There are exceptions. Teachers hired before 1996 are exempt, and there is a waiver process for hardship cases. The penalty for violating the residency requirement is termination, although investigation and enforcement seem to be intermittent and uneven.

A 2009 audit discovered 77 district employees who were residing outside of the city limits, but it took five years before an appeals court concurred with the district’s decision to dismiss two of them.

The people of Chicago, and even the teachers themselves, line up on both sides of the residency requirement, as evidenced by these pro and con columns that appeared last year in Catalyst Chicago and the comments following each.

The residency requirement does not seem to factor into the current dispute between the city and the Chicago Teachers Union, but based on the board’s rationale for instituting the rule, it might come up in negotiations. The board claimed:

– a) quality of performance of duties by officers and employees of the Board will be enhanced by a more comprehensive knowledge of the conditions existing in the school system and by a feeling of greater personal stake in the system’s progress;

b) resident officers and employees will be more likely to be involved in school and community activities, thus bringing them into contact with community leaders and citizens;

c) absenteeism and tardiness will be diminished;

d) economic benefits will accrue to the school system from local expenditure of salaries and the payment of local sales and real estate taxes, and educational benefits will be derived from residency by teachers, administrators and other employees in the City of Chicago.

I doubt if any of these four assumptions has been empirically tested, even though the system has cohorts of resident and non-resident employees to compare. However, the union might take the board at its word on the fourth claim and raise it as a factor in salary and benefit bargaining.