Editorial: City teachers: ‘We need a voice’
Editorials May 24, 2012 9:44PM
Chicago Teachers Union members march along Michigan Avenue to the Chicago Public Schools headquarters on Wednesday. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: July 3, 2012 9:39AM
During a thunderous, revival-style teachers union rally on Wednesday that drew thousands of teachers and school staff to the Loop, one theme emerged above all else:
Chicago teachers have had it.
“We need a voice and we don’t feel it’s happening,” said Chicago Public Schools teacher Kara Witte, one of thousands of teachers and school staff who marched joyfully and triumphantly down Michigan Avenue after the rally, basking in a rare moment of camaraderie and solidarity. “We’re here because we want to show our unity and to be respected.”
Before passing this off as run-of-the-mill teacher whining, or dismissing these complaints as manufactured by the Chicago Teachers Union, consider some of what Chicago teachers have experienced this year and have to look forward to next year:
The loss of a promised 4 percent raise; major school closures and turnarounds; a mayor-imposed plan for a longer school day next year with little promise of increased compensation, let alone a modest cost of living raise; a plan to launch a new teacher evaluation system next fall based, in part, on student test scores, and a plan to dramatically reduce teacher pensions.
And this is on top of the regular struggles of teaching in a poorly financed school system rife with needy children.
Wednesday was a rare moment for a work force that has been on the defensive all year, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel barreling ahead, virtually unstoppable, in his quest to reform the city schools.
Is there any wonder there is talk of a teachers strike?
We backed most of these bold reforms as right for Chicago and still do, though we wish we could feel more confident that a longer day will really be a better day.
We also have emphasized Chicago’s bleak financial picture, a world where painful pension reforms are essential and the money to give schools what they truly need simply isn’t there. This is a reality that the Chicago Teachers Union leadership appears unwilling to acknowledge.
But that doesn’t mean the teachers — who have to make all these downtown ideas work — aren’t feeling overburdened and underappreciated and that their ideas for improving schools aren’t getting short shrift.
If Emanuel, the target of unrelenting scorn at the rally, hopes to avoid a strike, he would do well to start showing — not just talking about — his love for Chicago’s teachers. He and Brizard made a start Wednesday when they both said publicly that Chicago teachers deserve a raise.
We’d like to hear what else they have to offer.
Otherwise, Emanuel is looking at a strike-authorization vote any day. The union clearly thinks that the vote (which gives the CTU House of Delegates the power to set a strike date) is the best way to gain leverage at the bargaining table over a powerful school board and mayor. The contract expires June 30 and CPS’ initial offer includes many bitter pills for teachers to swallow.
School leaders want the CTU to hold off on a vote until after an arbitrator recommends final contract terms in mid-July. That makes sense. In a perfect world, teachers would vote only after they’ve seen a final and firm offer. But unless the ugly dynamic between the union and CPS changes, and the union gains some leverage another way, it’s hard to see the union waiting, particularly because it will be harder to stage a successful vote in the summer.
The CTU also must do its part to douse the flames.
The leadership has been misrepresenting CPS’ initial contract offers, casting CPS as the villain and exaggerating the losses teachers face. They even polled teachers based on this mischaracterization of the contract offer. And so far, we understand from CPS, the CTU has been doing little real bargaining. The strategy, it appears, is to wait for the strike-authorization vote before truly beginning to bargain. That is a tremendous disservice to Chicago’s teachers and Chicago’s students.