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‘Fed up’ teachers at 150 schools support strike: union chief

Chicago Teachers UniPresident Karen Lewis said April 5 2012 thteachers are 'fed up' with how Mayor Rahm Emanuel Chicago Public

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said on April 5, 2012 that teachers are "fed up" with how Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools officials have treated teachers and said teachers at 150 schools support going on strike if contract negot

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Updated: May 7, 2012 8:14AM

“Fed up“ with being scapegoated, Chicago public school teachers in 150 schools have voted overwhelmingly in mock ballots to support a strike should ongoing contract negotiations fail, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis revealed Thursday.

Chicago Public School officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have created such a “hostile” climate that teacher leaders in 150 schools polled CTU members about support for a strike, Lewis and other CTU officials said.

At each school, Lewis said, at least 75 percent of teachers favored a strike “should contract negotiations fail” and “CPS and the mayor do not reverse the hostile climate against us.”

The mock ballots follow a new law that raised the CTU voting margin needed to authorize a strike from a simple majority of voters to at least 75 percent of all CTU members.

The polls were conducted and initiated by teacher delegates and school leaders in the field and not by the union officials, said CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin. Union leaders recently learned that some CTU delegates had done such polling, and asked all such schools with strike polls to forward their results to the union, Gadlin said.

Although the CTU did not have the exact questions posed in each poll, the results indicated that the union would be able to meet its new strike margin in 150 schools should a strike vote be held, Gadlin said. At least 580 schools would vote on such an issue.

Lewis said teachers are madder than she has seen them in 25 years — including in 1987, when then-firebrand CTU President Jackie Vaughn led the union in a 19-day walkout.

“Chicago teachers and paraprofessionals are fed up,” Lewis said. “They are tired of being blamed, bullied and belittled by the very district that should be supporting them. ...

“They live in a city that has done everything it can to take the joy out of teaching and learning.’’

In CPS, teachers have been reduced to “technicians and babysitters,’’ asked to “work longer and harder to inflict on children mindless experiment after mindless experiment,’’ Lewis said. “When the experiment fails, the teacher is blamed.’’

Lewis contended CPS officials are proposing replacing the current, 230-page contract that expires June 30 with a 20-page, five-year contract that “totally guts’’ the current one and eliminates all language on class size.

The Board of Education’s proposal would provide two percent raises in only the first year, Lewis said. After that, she said, CPS wants only “merit” raises based on a new CPS-imposed teacher evaluation system that would eventually tie up to 40 percent of a teachers’ rating to student growth, including growth based on test scores.

Lewis estimated that with the new 7 1/2 hour work day promised by Emanuel and Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, the CPS proposal would amount to a 23 percent pay cut over five years.

Asked if it was true that she opened negotiations by proposing a 30 percent teacher pay raise over two years, Lewis said: “I don’t remember [but] if I didn’t, I should have.’’

Earlier, during a news conference to tout $6.8 million in new high-definition cameras at 14 high schools, Brizard insisted he had “tremendous respect’’ for teachers and it was “unfortunate’’ teachers were talking about striking.

“We are in the middle of negotiations,’’ Brizard said. “To push the s-word without finishing the process is unfair.’’

At a separate event, Emanuel urged teachers to focus the remainder of the school year on teaching “and not something else.’’

“Remember what you’re here for is to teach our children” and that’s “what taxpayers expect of you,’’ Emanuel said. “I believe that too much of the discussion has been about what’s in the interest of the adults and not in the interest of our children.’’

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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