By Teachers, For Teachers
On Friday, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis sounded ebullient when she announced that the union had reached a tentative deal with Chicago Public Schools officials. The union leader, hailed by some as a national labor hero, said she was "very comfortable" with the terms. "We think it's a framework that will get us to an agreement."
It didn't. Just two days later, Lewis couldn't sell the deal to her own House of Delegates. In a stunning turn of events late Sunday afternoon, CTU delegates refused to go back to work. They chanted "Get it right!" They demanded more time. Remember, they were only being asked Sunday to suspend the strike and return to the classrooms while union members prepare for a vote on whether to accept the contract.
Result: Chicago's teachers will keep the school doors locked on Chicago's kids and parents.
CPS has already made significant concessions to the union. It has given ground -- too much ground, we think -- on this contract offer. The deal would limit principals' freedom to hire the best teachers available. That's just one of many CPS concessions.
CPS has to make it clear to teachers that the deal on the table isn't ... going ... to ... get ... better.
What's on the table should be CPS' best and final offer. It's a good deal for CTU members. They should not hold the expectation that they will squeeze more concessions if they prolong this strike -- if they continue to prevent Chicago's children from learning.
Teachers have enjoyed some good will with many parents. But the longer this goes on, the less convinced parents will be that their children's interests are at the heart of this dispute. Our hunch is that more than a few families welcomed Mayor Rahm Emanuel's decision late Sunday to have City Hall lawyers seek court action to end the 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.
(c)2012 the Chicago Tribune
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Read More about the Chicago Teachers' Union Strike and its effect on the students.