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Chicago Teachers Form Picket Lines For First Time Since 1987

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 10, 2012 3:00PM

Teachers picket outside Healy Elementary School in Bridgeport, Sept. 10, 2012. (Chuck Sudo/Chicagoist)

Anyone questioning whether there’s support for a teachers strike in Chicago need only follow the honking horns of cars this morning, at least in Bridgeport. Outside Healy Elementary School (3010 S. Parnell Ave.) teachers dressed in red shirts holding signs that read “ON STRIKE” and “FAIR CONTRACT NOW” set up picket lines at each corner of the school chanting “Hey, Ho! Rahm Emanuel has got to go!” and letting the occasional parent with child in tow know that school would not be in session today. Motorists laid on their horns, waved and gave thumbs-ups at the teachers. Some of the motorists included police in squad cars who are themselves working without a new labor deal in place.

The first teachers strike in Chicago in 25 years is now in effect and eyes are now on Emanuel, who has taken a hardline stance with the Chicago Teachers Union since his campaign for mayor last year. Emanuel has long called for a longer school day, without offering much in the way of how the school day would be implemented or if extra instruction for students would be integrated into the longer school day. The Chicago Teachers Union, led by President Karen Lewis, called instead for a “better school day” incorporating a wider range of instruction and less focused on preparing students for standardized testing.

The two sides were able to agree on a plan in July where Chicago Public Schools would get the longer school day Emanuel championed while ensuring teachers would not work a longer day. That’s the only thing the two sides have been able to agree on since.

Talks regarding a new labor deal between the school district and CTU’s 29,000 members have been acrimonious and in a stalemate until recently, when negotiations to avoid a strike showed improvement with the addition of Emanuel’s hand-picked Chicago School Board President, David Vitale, to CPS’ negotiating team. Lewis and CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told assembled media Sunday night the major obstacles to a new deal—besides pay raises—involved recalling laid off teachers and teacher evaluations.

Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard have thrown their weight behind adding more charter schools to the school system, which has CTU concerned that laid off teachers will not have the first shot at new openings, since charter schools operate separate from CPS schools. (Charter schools are in session today.)

CTU is also concerned that teacher evaluations will be weighted toward student’s performances in standardized testing, while the School Board argued a new evaluation system was already negotiated with teachers and settled in March under a state law.

Chicago teachers strike outside Healy Elementary School, Sept. 10, 2012. (Chuck Sudo/Chicagoist)

Lewis and Chicago Teachers Union delegates addressed the media Sunday night and said talks were productive, but the two sides were still far apart on a new deal. The CTU wrote in a press release last night:

“Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation. However, we are apart on benefits. We want to maintain the existing health benefits.

“Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.

“We want job security. Despite a new curriculum and new, stringent evaluation system, CPS proposes no increase (or even decreases) in teacher training. This is notable because our Union through our Quest Center is at the forefront teacher professional development in Illinois. We have been lauded by the District and our colleagues across the country for our extensive teacher training programs that helped emerging teachers strengthen their craft and increased the number of nationally board certified educators.

“As we continue to bargain in good faith, we stand in solidarity with parents, clergy and community-based organizations who are advocating for smaller class sizes, a better school day and an elected school board. Class size matters. It matters to parents. In the third largest school district in Illinois there are only 350 social workers—putting their caseloads at nearly 1,000 students each. We join them in their call for more social workers, counselors, audio/visual and hearing technicians and school nurses. Our children are exposed to unprecedented levels of neighborhood violence and other social issues, so the fight for wraparound services is critically important to all of us. Our members will continue to support this ground swell of parent activism and grassroots engagement on these issues. And we hope the Board will not shut these voices out.
“While new Illinois law prohibits us from striking over the recall of laid-off teachers and compensation for a longer school year, we do not intend to sign an agreement until these matters are addressed.’

Emanuel gathered his department heads for his own press conference late Sunday night and laid the blame for a strike squarely on the shoulders of the teachers union. Emanuel called the strike “a strike of choice” that was avoidable and that his team was ready any time to negotiate a new deal. (Lewis texted David Vitale Sunday night and said CTU was still willing to go the bargaining table.) Emanuel, Brizard and Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy all framed the teachers strike as a safety issue related to the increase in the city’s murder rate: students will have no place to go as long as teachers are on strike.