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Editorial: If Chicago teachers strike now, it’s the union’s bad call

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Updated: October 9, 2012 2:32PM

No issue still to be negotiated justifies Chicago Public Schools teachers striking on Monday.

Despite the flame-throwing by the Chicago Teachers Union, a fair settlement is within reach — and it’s largely up to the union to make it happen.

The union has made these talks a referendum on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his schools reform agenda. Emanuel may have tried to do too much at once — a recipe for poor outcomes in a district that often fails to pull off the best of ideas under the best of circumstances. But that doesn’t justify saying no to it all, as the union has done.

The mayor’s schools team was right to push for reform; a longer day, more meaningful teacher evaluations, a compensation system that does more than simply pay teachers for another year of service.

The answer to the mayor’s over-reaching isn’t a strike. The answer is hammering out compromises at the bargaining table:

“Step” increases: Teachers are balking at giving up annual raises for each extra year they work. They are wrong on this issue. It’s no longer acceptable for a teacher to get a pay hike just for sticking around year after year. If teachers want more than a cost-of-living raise from here on out, it should be tied to additional responsibilities and student performance. A CPS official tells us CPS has proposed swapping steps for an alternative that provides additional compensation.

Raises: The CTU rejects a proposed 8 percent raise over four years when they know CPS is out of cash and the financial future bleaker still. This isn’t a statement about teachers’ worth and the CTU knows it. That said, 2 percent — on the heels of a rescinded 4 percent raise last year and a more demanding teaching job this year with a new curriculum and a longer day and year — is too low. CPS could swing a total raise of 3 percent and buy some goodwill.

Teacher recall: With dozens of school closings likely on the horizon, the union wants a recall policy for displaced teachers. We adamantly oppose telling principals who to hire. But quality teachers — many who chose to work at tough schools — shouldn’t be penalized for taking those jobs and need first crack at openings. CTU and CPS reached a compromise on this in July, giving displaced teachers first shot at jobs needed for the longer day without guaranteeing them work. Principals can also fire them if they don’t work out. That should be the template for a larger agreement.

Evaluations: This school year brings new teacher evaluations, a vast improvement over the meaningless checklist in place for years. A new state law requires basing at least 30 percent of the evaluation on student test score growth. CPS opted for 40 percent. Another 10 percent is based on student surveys, and classroom observations make up the rest. We have endorsed the evaluation system but would argue that 40 percent is too high given all the factors that influence student performance. CPS should dial that back to 30 or 35 percent.

CTU President Karen Lewis needs to walk her fired-up teachers back from the ledge. And she can do it with a good conscience. At her prodding, CPS dropped merit pay and health premium increases, agreed to a longer day for students but not a significantly longer one for teachers, and adopted a first-of-its-kind rehiring policy.

Emanuel also can walk away with this head high. He has brought important change to CPS: a longer day and year; new teacher evaluations; a more rigorous curriculum.

Each side can claim victory. All that’s left is for them to do it.

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