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Latest News - September 2012

September 16, 2012
Teachers' Strike To Continue; Mayor To Seek Injunction To End Walkout
Source: CBS Chicago

Despite Chicago Teachers Union negotiators agreeing to a tentative deal with the Chicago Public Schools, there will be no classes on Monday, and they likely won’t resume until at least Wednesday. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city will seek a court order to end the strike immediately.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said late Sunday afternoon that the union’s House of Delegates wanted to take the contract proposal to individual teachers for consideration before voting to end the strike. The delegates won’t meet again until Tuesday, and because delegates must vote to suspend or end the strike, that means classes would not resume until Wednesday at the earliest.

That would push the strike into a 6th and 7th school day.

“They very well could come back and say ‘Go back to the table, we’re staying out.’ They could say that. But they need the opportunity to have the time to make those decisions,” Lewis said.

In a written statement Sunday evening, the mayor said he has ordered the city’s Corporation Counsel to work with the general counsel of the Chicago Public Schools to file an injunction seeking to immediately end the strike.

“There is no reason why are kids cannot be in school while the union reviews the agreement,” school board president David Vitale said at a Sunday evening news conference. “As we said, this is a strike of choice. It has now become a delay of choice.”

The union and CPS negotiators agreed on the framework of the tentative deal on Friday, and spent Saturday and Sunday finalizing the language of the pact that was presented to delegates Sunday afternoon.

Lewis said because delegates had not seen anything in writing until Sunday, they did not want to vote to suspend the strike right away, before they had a chance to review the proposal in detail.

“They need the opportunity to have the time to do that, and I’d like to give it to them,” Lewis said. “I think when they parse through, and actually look at some of the features of it, then they will feel a little bit more comfortable, but not having language for them on Friday was hard for them.”

Few delegates who exited the Pilsen union hall where the decision was made would comment. Some appeared to disagree with the decision. Others defended it.

“The fact that we went on strike is agonizing. We all want to be teaching our students. That’s why we’re in it — we love them,” says Dean Refakes, a physical education teacher. “There comes a time when we have to fight for our students and our parents in order to get the resources so we can properly educate them.”

CPS announced plans to expand its “Children First” program that opens up buildings and offers activities to students during the strike. “Children First” sites will be available at 147 public schools, 84 Chicago Park District locations, 78 public libraries, 100 non-profit partner locations, and 59 Safe Haven sites.

According to a release from the union, the tentative deal would be a three-year contract, with an option for a fourth year. Both sides would have to agree to the fourth year of the deal. In the first year, teachers would get a 3 percent raise. In the second and third year of the deals, they would get a 2 percent raise. If the sides agree to a fourth year, teacher raises would be 3 percent that year.

In addition to the pay hikes, the contract calls for:

 No merit pay, which had been sought by the district.
Preserving “step increases,” which are based on teacher experience, with increased value for the three highest steps.
Hiring an additional 512 teachers in art, music, physical education, world languages, and other “special” subjects as part of the longer school day.
Requiring half of all CPS hires be previously laid-off teachers.
Mandating teachers whose positions are eliminated due to school closures and “follow their students” to other schools.
Allowing laid-off teachers 10 months of “true recall” to their old school if a new position opens.
Reimbursing teachers up to $250 for out-of-pocket expenses on school supplies.
An agreement by CPS to hire more nurses, social workers, and school counselors if new revenue is available, including from TIF funds.
A new teacher evaluation system that limits to 30 percent the weight given to student improvement on standardized test scores, rather than the 40 percent sought by the district.
Protecting tenured teachers from losing their jobs due to evaluations in the first year of the contract.
Allowing an appeal of a “neutral” rating on teacher evaluations.
A guarantee that all CPS students and teachers have textbooks on the first day of class.

“This is the deal we got. This is not a good deal by any stretch of the imagination; Not to what our members are compared to having,” Lewis said. “I have a certain amount of integrity. I’m not going to sit up and hold up a book and say this is the greatest thing since sliced bread because I’m supposed to sell it. I’m not a marketer.”

According to CPS, the contract would cost an additional $74 million per year. It also includes the plan for a longer school day and longer school year.

Lewis said the delegates were clearly hoping for an agreement that would have been more beneficial to them, especially in terms of teachers’ recall rights, and a new teacher evaluation system.

“They’re not happy with the agreement. They would like it to be actually a lot better for us than it is,” she said. “I mean, clearly a contract is always a set of negotiations. No sides are ever completely happy, but our members are not happy, and they want to have the opportunity to talk to their members to see; they still want to know, i there anything more they can get. We’ve told them, basically, that we feel this is the deal the board had.”

Lewis said the biggest problem is that teachers simply do not trust the Board of Education, and they’re not yet convinced the deal is fair.

“They’re still not happy with the evaluations, they’re not happy with the recall. They don’t like the idea that people’s recall benefits are basically cut in half,” she said. “The big elephant in the room is the closing of 200 schools. That’s what the big elephant in the room is with our members. That’s where they are. They are concerned with this city’s decision, on some level, to close schools. They are extraordinarily concerned about it. … It undergirds just about everything they talked about,” Lewis said.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Emanuel administration plans to close scores of under-performing or low-enrollment schools, which could lead to potentially thousands of layoffs.

“We’ve had school closing fights before. We feel that they’re even larger and grander now,” Lewis said.

She also said she believes parents will understand that the teachers need time to review the tentative deal before agreeing to end the strike.

“I think parents understand. I think parents are also worried about some of the things that we’re worried about,” Lewis said.

The last teachers strike, in 1987, lasted 19 days before it ended.



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