The strike by Chicago teachers has entered its second week. Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he’s taking the Chicago Teachers Union to court to end what he’s now characterizing as an “illegal strike”:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is threatening to go to court today to end the Chicago teachers strike after union delegates decided to extend the walkout at least two more days while they review a tenative deal.
Emanuel called the walkout “illegal” and pledged late Sunday to seek an injunction in court to force an end to the city’s first teachers strike in a quarter century leaders and return more than 350,000 students to the classroom.
Delegates had met with Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis for nearly three hours Sunday to review a tentative contract that had been brokered after months of negotiation, but decided to extend the strike.
“They’re not happy with the agreement. They’d like it to be a lot better for us than it is,” Lewis said. “This is the deal we got. This is not a good deal by any stretch of the imagination, not (compared) to what our members are (used) to having.”
Both of Chicago’s major newspapers have editorialized against the teachers continuing their strike.
In an earlier news conference, a grim Lewis ticked off a long list of concerns that her members mentioned about the contract. She said “the big elephant in the room” is CPS’ plans to close upwards of what she said could be 200 schools. Teachers are “extraordinarily concerned about that,” she told reporters. “It undergirds everything they talked about” in the House of Delegates meeting.
Yes, CPS could be looking at closing and consolidating schools. The real elephant in the room: CPS is exhausting its reserve funds this year and faces an estimated $1 billion budget deficit next year with a massive pension payment hike.
And yet CPS is promising to hire more teachers and spend more money on salaries in this contract. CPS says that if the contract runs four years, the district will spend $295 million to hire new teachers and give all teachers guaranteed raises. That is money the district doesn’t have. The front page of Sunday’s Tribune neatly summarized the district’s financial straits in a single sentence: Since 2001, the district has seen its net assets plummet from $1.2 billion to negative $1.2 billion, a decrease of 200 percent.
As difficult as this contract negotiation has been, much more difficult work lies ahead to keep Chicago’s schools operating. That’s going to require the cooperation of teachers, parents and school administrators.
Teachers, it’s time to go back to work.
The board signed on to a big raise and still must figure out how to pay for it. But the cost is worth it to honor teachers. CPS is already in a deep fiscal hole; this just digs it in a little deeper. The raise puts that much more pressure on the board to rein in spending, including moving ahead with painful school closures and dramatic pension cost cuts.
Teachers, take a day if you must. Then grab this deal while you still have it.
The Wall Street Journal notes that the CTU doesn’t seem to be content with success:
Mayor Rahm Emanuel did win a longer school day—to seven hours from five hours and 45 minutes. But the city had already agreed to a union demand to hire 500 additional new teachers to help fill the longer school day, and the average teacher will work a mere 15-20 minutes more per day.
The district also won more autonomy for principals to hire teachers, though they will have to first interview from the pool of union teachers laid-off at public schools.
Teachers won big, however, on what they really care about (other than money), which is limiting the degree to which student test scores count in teacher evaluations. Student performance will count for only 25% starting this year, moving up over the next two years to 35%. This leaves the rest of the evaluation to the kind of subjective judgment that has long kept the worst teachers firmly in place.
The union nixed merit pay—everyone has to move in lock-step, you know—and teachers that do somehow get a ranking of “needs improvement” suffer no consequence in the first year. After a repeat of that ranking, they move into a category of “unsatisfactory,” which means they get 90 days of remediation to shape up. If they don’t, they are then put on a path to dismissal, which in the past has taken from two to five years but which Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale says will now take about nine months.
The bottom line on this whole thing is that the teachers have received a whopping raise—no cost of living increase but one substantially beyond the local increases in prices and kept teacher evaluations within the limits required by the state of Illinois. An additional 500 new union members will be hired while the official workday for Chicago teachers remains among the shortest in big school districts.
Here’s what I think has happened. I think that Karen Lewis got a deal with the CPS that gave her practically everything she was looking for and which she thought was about as far as the CPS would go. I further think that she was genuinely surprised that the union delegates rejected the deal or, at least, are temporizing. Months of insults and hardball on the mayor’s part have taken a toll. This is personal and the CTU is determined to let the mayor go back with as little as possible out of the deal. You voted for him, Chicago.
Will the teachers get a sweeter deal from extending the strike a few more days? Or just extract more pain?