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CPS, union wage battle for public opinion, but wherein lies the truth?

Updated: October 15, 2012 9:22AM



Can you believe those greedy teachers are turning down a 16 percent raise and demanding control over whether they get fired, no matter how poorly they perform?

Can you believe those wealthy, out-of-touch one percenters on the school board are so callous they forced the teachers to strike and denied hundreds of thousands of kids the chance to start school on time?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel: there are only two unresolved issues.

The CTU: there are nearly 50 unresolved issues.

Somewhere in between these wildly conflicting views there lies the truth. Or maybe all four statements are true.

As the stalemate between the CTU and school administrators stretched into the week and negotiations continue behind closed doors, a very public battle is being waged in the media, with the headline bout featuring Rahm “The Quiet One” Emanuel vs. Karen “Shout it Out” Lewis.

When Rahm goes into his slightly sing-song, low-talker cadence, you know his insides have heated up from a simmer to a full boil. Meanwhile, even if Lewis is uttering the most innocuous pleasantry, she sounds as if she’s sending you to the principal’s office: “THESE BROWNIES ARE DELICIOUS, THANKS FOR MAKING THEM!”

OK, I’m sorry, it won’t happen again!

And then there’s Chicago Public School CEO Jean-Claude Brizard (who took to Twitter on Wednesday to deny rumors he was resigning), with that soothing, lilting island accent making it sound like everything’s going to be all right. Brizard could be saying, “You’re such a moron,” and you’d say, “Aw, thanks man, appreciate it.”

Say what you will about Lewis’ strident style, she seems to have the backing of the rank and file, and she’s one of the few people in Chicago — or for that matter, the known galaxy — who appears to relish a battle with Emanuel, whom she has called a “bully” and a “liar.” Last year after a meeting with Emanuel to talk about longer school days, she claimed the mayor pointed a finger at her and said, “F--- you Lewis.”

Rahm’s response when asked about that allegation: “We had a good meeting.”

Unleash the rhetoric

Working its case in the court of public opinion, administrators have done a magnificent job of pushing that 16 percent figure.

Headline from the Fox News Channel website:

“Chicago Public Schools offer 16 percent raise to teachers seeking 35 percent hike”

But it’s not as if teachers were offered an immediate 16 percent increase to their paychecks. The offer is a 3 percent raise for this year, followed by another 2 percent annually for the next three years. School board President David Vitale says when you factor in other benefits, this amounts to a 16 percent increase. We might need Bill Clinton to do the arithmetic, but however the numbers add up, those opposed to the strike are chanting “16 percent” as a mantra. The CTU has done a poor job of explaining it’s a little more complicated than that.

One of the uglier bits of spin put on the story came from Matt Drudge, who linked to a local TV station’s website reportage with this headline:

“400,000 STUDENTS UNLEASHED”

Wow. Unleashed? Who knew they were “leashed” in the first place?

The Fountain of Truth

Striking teachers and their supporters also participated in one of the more curious marches in recent memory late Tuesday afternoon, clogging traffic in the Loop and then making their way east toward Buckingham Fountain. At that point they circled the fountain and then just sort of . . . scattered.

It was as if they were the largest tour group in Chicago history, checking out that really cool fountain and then realizing they’ve got to turn around if they want to check out more of the city. Like much of what has transpired over the last few days, it seemed to have little to do with the most important element in this story.

The students. Remember them?



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