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Emanuel calls teachers strike vote ‘huge;’ hopes to avoid walkout


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Updated: July 14, 2012 6:30AM

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged Tuesday that 90 percent is a “huge number” for the Chicago Teachers Union to achieve in its strike authorization vote, but he’s holding out hope for a pre-strike settlement.

“Let’s work together, find common ground, find partnership, reminding ourselves …. [of the need to] work together to better serve the taxpayers and our main constituents, “ the mayor said.

“Here in the public school system, our kids are our constituents. ... I want our school system to return to its main focus: our children. … I want our children to be the focus of our schools. Not anybody else. ... We’re gonna make sure that all parties — both our teachers and our kids — are lifted up. That’s why I’ve asked all parties to stay focused on the third-party, independent arbitrator” due to report its findings in mid-July.

Emanuel pushed for a change in state law that raised the strike authorization threshold to 75 percent, a benchmark so high, at least one education advocate with ties to the mayor predicted that it could never be met.

Instead, the Chicago Teachers Union roared passed that benchmark, fueled by their anger against a mayor who stripped them of a previously-negotiated, four percent pay raise and tried to muscle through a longer school day.

The CTU and the school district have been wrangling since November over wages, benefits, language on class size, a plan to tie teacher pay to student test results and other issues.

On Tuesday, Emanuel acknowledged the obvious: Ninety percent is “a huge number.”

He sloughed off the question of whether the change in state law had backfired on him politically.

“I don’t consider anything [backfiring] as long as we’re achieving what we’re supposed to be achieving for our kids: improved math scores; improved reading scores; more investment in options … so we don’t have parents leaving when their kids are [in] 5th or 6th grade for the suburbs because they obviously realize there are choices here,” he said.

“I believe firmly that our teachers work extremely hard, need to be and have earned compensation. They deserve it. They’ve earned it and appropriately have gotten it and should get it in the future. What I want to make sure is our children also have a full day and a full school year equal to their full potential, which has not been done to date.”

Asked whether the showdown with teachers threatens to turn Chicago into “another Wisconsin,” Emanuel pointed to his string of recent labor successes — on McCormick Place reform, a wellness plan to bring down city health insurance costs, on managed competition between city employees and private contractors and on work rule changes with Streets and Sanitation Laborers.

He also noted that the Service Employees International Union managed to forge an agreement with the Chicago Public Schools.

The mayor’s mantra is stable finances, good schools and safe streets. He says it so often, he sounds like a broken record. That would be severely threatened if Chicago is forced to endure its first teachers strike in 25 years.

A 36 percent spike in the city’s homicide rate, an 11 percent increase in shootings and a return to mob attacks in the downtown area also threaten to burst the mayor’s bubble — which is why Police Supt. Garry McCarthy is hiring back off-duty police officers on weekends to bolster police presence amid a continued manpower shortage.

On Tuesday, Emanuel says he expects to be “held accountable” on the goals he set when he stands for re-election in 2015.

But, he also said, “I’m only in Year One and, to be frank, I’m just getting started. But, do I think people think that change is easy? Nope. There’s a lot of winners in the status-quo and there are a lot of people who have been shortchanged in the status quo. And I’m making sure that people who have been shortchanged along the way get their fair due.”

He added, “I said we were gonna run on change. I said we were gonna do the tough things that required being honest with people. ... I’m not done with safe streets, stronger schools and stable finances. Those are the things we have to do to achieve the goal for our children and our families so businesses can come here to create jobs and families can come here and stay here and raise their family.”

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