Teachers strike enters its 3rd day with two sides ‘kilometers apart’
BY STEFANO ESPOSITO, FRAN SPIELMAN, LAUREN FITZPATRICK AND ROSALIND ROSSI Staff Reporters September 11, 2012 7:51AM
Chicago Teachers Union Contract Talks by the Numbers
1987 = last CTU strike, 19 days.
350,000 = students affected (50,000 others in charter schools not impacted).
30,000 = CTU teachers & educational personnel on strike.
144 = CPS strike-contingency schools offering food & activities (8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.).
11,000 = CPS athletes whose fall sports could be impacted.
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Updated: October 14, 2012 1:23PM
The head of the Chicago Teachers Union suggested the two sides remained “kilometers apart” as the strike entered into its third day Wednesday.
While Mayor Rahm Emanuel suggested there were only two major issues remaining to work out, union President Karen Lewis noted they had agreed on only six of nearly 50 issues.
“To say that the contract will be settled today is lunacy,” she said while at a rally that brought thousands of teachers to the downtown streets Tuesday afternoon. She later said she was “extremely frustrated” when a news reporter commented that it didn’t appear likely that the strike would be resolved even by the end of the day Wednesday.
Board of Education President David Vitale later fired back, saying that other comments that Lewis made while at the rally suggesting she had to return to the “silly part” of her day negotiating with Vitale and encouraging teachers “to have fun” were an insult.
“This is not the behavior of a group of people who are serious about the interests of our children,” Vitale said as negotiations ended Tuesday night. “It’s time for us to get serious.”
Vitale said the board also agreed to freeze health care rates for teachers, something the union had pushed for.
But he agreed the two sides could not come to terms on a new teacher evaluation system despite negotiating on it for most of the day.
“I would not say we came to an agreement on the fundamentals,” Vitale said. He said the district gave teachers a written proposal — one that Lewis was not present to receive — but said he would return to the table “when we receive a written response or a written proposal” from CTU.
CTU attorney Robert Bloch said Lewis returned to the table Tuesday night and saw the proposal.
CTU officials later said the two sides plan to meet at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
In an interview with WGN-TV Wednesday morning, Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz appeared to suggest the next move is up to the union.
“We need a concrete counterproposal back,” Ruiz said.
The dueling statements from leaders on both sides came as the district said the hours of 147 contingency schools open for half days during the strike would be extended by two more hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., starting Thursday, to meet parent demand. So far, attendance at those schools — which teachers have picketed in force — has been much lower than expected.
Although some parents expressed frustration over missing work for a second consecutive day as the vast majority of schools remained closed, a new poll suggested registered voters, by a 47 to 39 percent margin, supported the strike — a poll city officials dismissed. In addition, Chicago Talent Development Charter High School, said it would be closed this week because it shares Crane High School’s building at 2245 West Jackson and officials said they want to “maximize the potential for a productive and positive working relationship among all adults in the building.”
While teachers increased their pickets at the contingency schools, thousands again flowed into the streets outside the board’s downtown headquarters near Clark and Adams. The teachers and their supporters marched through the Loop, closing down busy streets during rush hour, including the southbound lanes of Michigan Avenue.
The teachers ripped Emanuel, and expressed anger over how the city diverts property taxes from the schools to give tax increment financing to some of the city’s biggest companies, like those in the financial district downtown.
“Silly rich guy, TIFs are for kids!” one sign read. Another: “Tax Wall Street.”
At the rally, Lewis ridiculed suggestions the strike could end Tuesday. With national labor leaders at her side, she hinted the battle was about more than just local issues.
“The revolution will not be standardized,” she said. “The assault on public education started here. It needs to end here.”
It was there that she told teachers, before they marched to Buckingham Fountain, that she was returning to negotiations with Vitale.
“I’m going back to the silly part of my day, dealing with the boss. You continue to have fun,” she told the jubilant crowd of teachers dressed largely in red.
Those remarks were clearly upsetting to Vitale.
“I understand that there was some public talk of silliness about what was going on in this building today, that this was a silly season,” an annoyed Vitale said after about nine hours of talks with the union. “Many of you who may have known me over time know that I’m not a silly person. . . . I spent the entire day here today. It wasn’t part of my day,” he said — referring to that Lewis was not in talks for the entire day.
“It’s also my understanding that there’s a large group of people with red shirts on over by Buckingham Fountain, and they were told to keep going and have a party and have fun — have fun while 400,000 kids are out of school that they should have been teaching. This is not the behavior of a group of people that are serious about the interests of our children. It’s time for us to get serious.”
Earlier, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Vitale declared what they saw as the two major roadblocks — teacher evaluations and teacher re-hiring — as “non-strikeable” issues. But said they would much rather settle the dispute at the bargaining table than in a courtroom.
“My view is to work these issues out at the table,” the mayor said at a Southwest Side school where he enlisted support from principals who want to retain the right to choose their own teachers.
“[But], the legal answer is, they’re not allowed to be strikeable on it. Those are the two final issues that we’re dealing with of significance.”
Emanuel offered no hint as to how quickly he might pull the trigger in seeking a court injunction to stop the strike. He was too busy enlisting principals in his fight to allow them to choose their own teaching teams.
“It’s just like holding a coach accountable for a team’s results. They create the team. They create the culture. They create who’s the best fit,” the mayor said.
Ethan Netterstrom, principal at Skinner North, couldn’t agree more.
“I was very blessed to open up the school four years ago and I got to hire every single staff member who works for me. And that’s really made all the difference in our school in building a climate and a culture that’s been very positive and has had really good academic and social results,” Netterstrom said.
Legal experts disagreed on whether teachers could indeed strike on the evaluation issue, but Lewis — emerging from contract talks later Tuesday evening — said the two sides nevertheless were nowhere near an agreement on it despite negotiating on it for much of the day.
“There has not been as much movement as we hoped,” she said.
The board’s proposed new evaluation system ties teacher ratings to a score based on the observation of their classroom and student growth on standardized tests as well as a “performance task,” such as singing a song in music or doing a complicated word problem in math.
A key sticking point, said Bloch, is CPS’ proposal to create a teacher rating category that, based on projections from a pilot, would land 28 percent of teachers in the second from the bottom category of four possible categories. Teachers in that category whose scores do not improve after a year would be automatically moved to the bottom category, where they face dismissal if they don’t improve within 90 days.
The CPS cutoff scores make the second to the bottom category far too big, Bloch said.
“Thirty percent of teachers shouldn’t be on the bubble for discharge. That’s not a fair system,” Bloch said. “This is not reform. It’s simply mass firing of teachers in the hope that a new crop will somehow be better.”
Teachers are also concerned that their evaluation scores could fail to improve due to a host of factors beyond their control — a sudden increase in class size, the injection of more behavioral problems into their classroom, new principals who grade teachers more harshly than their predecessors, or an end-of-the-year heat wave that creates oppressive learning conditions in schools without air-conditioning. And, they say, if they don’t teach a tested subject, part of their evaluations will be based on schoolwide test growth in a subject they don’t even teach.
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll contended teachers in the second-from-the-bottom category are safe, as long as their overall evaluation scores improve. Guidance based on the extra detail in the evaluation format should help them improve, Carroll said. And, teachers would serve on a committee that will make adjustments to the plan as needed, Carroll said.
However, one CTU delegate who asked for anonymity said teachers feel they can’t rely on their voice to be adequately heard on any joint CPS committee.
“This is a culture of distrust. We don’t trust them,” the delegate said.