Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the teachers do have a choice. There was an offer made last winter that the CTU union president, Karen Lewis, thought would be accepted, but it was voted down by the 40 member CTU bargaining team. The mayor says we should have taken the offer that was built on borrowing, and uncertain funds from the state. Teachers accepted a contract a few years ago that was later adjusted due to lack of funds. It is no shock that the union is wary of suggestions based on questionable funding. The Chicago Teachers Union has given viable suggestions for the raising of funds for education that have largely been ignored by the board of education. There is a property tax increase that has been approved.
The mayor is also claiming we are getting a 13% pay increase. This is calculated with pay increases over four years without taking into account pension payment increases and increased benefit expenses. This is a confusing area. The mayor is clearly doing his math differently than the CTU.
In the last four years, Chicago schools have gone from having 450 school librarians to 150. We share nurses, psychologists, and social workers between schools. We are so out of compliance in Special Education IEPs that it is incredible that there has been no law suit. Our hours have increased after the strike in 2012 but planning time is decreased.
Our last CEO of the Board of Education is currently in prison for taking kickbacks on an over $20 million no bid contract. (Who takes a no bid contract that size? Not Boeing. Not PepsiCo.) We have a school board appointed by the mayor rather than an elected board. His agenda of closing 50 schools in primarily low income, black and brown neighborhoods passed the board without a single dissenting vote. Currently, there are new multimillion dollars schools being planned where there are schools nearby with low enrollment. Those schools, however, are mostly populated with minority students. Our schools are filthy after a contract to privatize our custodial services came into effect two years ago.
The mayor is blaming the teachers. The governor is hoping we fail and declare bankruptcy so the union contract will be voided. The Chicago Tribune suggested that the union is not democratic regardless of the fact that we ignored the union president’s suggested contract. They seem to have forgotten that Chicago teachers are tough, smart, and driven people who create wonderful learning environments in hard places.
Teachers are angry. They are feeling taken advantage of. Yes, wallets are part of the problem. The real reason they are angry, though, is because this makes educating kids in the best way a little harder each year. Our dirty work environment is their learning environment. The cut in services, libraries, sports, social services, and special education, hurts their ability to learn.
Everyone hopes this week will bring some closure and a deal can be made before October 11. If not, wear red and support our teachers.
Note: Lee-Ann Meredith is a former Chicago Teachers Union member. She currently substitute teaches in Chicago Public Schools and wears red every Friday to show her solidarity.