Teachers, paraprofessionals and school clinicians in Chicago have been without a labor agreement since June of this year. Following the inability of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to reach an agreement over benefits, the role of standardized tests in teacher evaluations, and physical improvements to schools that teachers say are harming both teacher and student performance, the CTU has announced that a city-wide stirke will begin today — the first teachers strike in 25 years. Pickets are expected at 675 schools and the Board of Education. The following are remarks from CTU President Karen Lewis.
Negotiations have been intense but productive, however we have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike. This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could avoid. Throughout these negotiations have I remained hopeful but determined. We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve.
Talks have been productive in many areas. We have successfully won concessions for nursing mothers and have put more than 500 of our members back to work. We have restored some of the art, music, world language, technology and physical education classes to many of our students. The Board also agreed that we will now have textbooks on the first day of school rather than have our students and teachers wait up to six weeks before receiving instructional materials.
Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation. However, we are apart on benefits. We want to maintain the existing health benefits.
Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.
We want job security. Despite a new curriculum and new, stringent evaluation system, CPS proposes no increase (or even decreases) in teacher training. This is notable because our Union through our Quest Center is at the forefront teacher professional development in Illinois. We have been lauded by the District and our colleagues across the country for our extensive teacher training programs that helped emerging teachers strengthen their craft and increased the number of nationally board certified educators.
We are demanding a reasonable timetable for the installation of air-conditioning in student classrooms–a sweltering, 98-degree classroom is not a productive learning environment for children. This type of environment is unacceptable for our members and all school personnel. A lack of climate control is unacceptable to our parents.
As we continue to bargain in good faith, we stand in solidarity with parents, clergy and community-based organizations who are advocating for smaller class sizes, a better school day and an elected school board. Class size matters. It matters to parents. In the third largest school district in Illinois there are only 350 social workers—putting their caseloads at nearly 1,000 students each. We join them in their call for more social workers, counselors, audio/visual and hearing technicians and school nurses. Our children are exposed to unprecedented levels of neighborhood violence and other social issues, so the fight for wraparound services is critically important to all of us. Our members will continue to support this ground swell of parent activism and grassroots engagement on these issues. And we hope the Board will not shut these voices out.
While new Illinois law prohibits us from striking over the recall of laid-off teachers and compensation for a longer school year, we do not intend to sign an agreement until these matters are addressed.
Again, we are committed to staying at the table until a contract is place. However, in the morning no CTU member will be inside our schools. We will walk the picket lines. We will talk to parents. We will talk to clergy. We will talk to the community. We will talk to anyone who will listen—we demand a fair contract today, we demand a fair contract now. And, until there is one in place that our members accept, we will on the line.
We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters throughout the state and country who are currently bargaining for their own fair contracts. We stand with those who have already declared they too are prepared to strike, in the best interests of their students.
This announcement is made now so our parents and community are empowered with this knowledge and will know that schools will not open on tomorrow. Please seek alternative care for your children. And, we ask all of you to join us in our education justice fight—for a fair contract—and call on the mayor and CEO Brizard to settle this matter now. Thank you.
This article was originally published by Common Dreams.