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The race for City Hall

Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

Teachers set strike date: Sept. 10

The Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates voted unanimously on Thursday for a Sept. 10 strike, union leaders said. Cheering was heard seconds before hundreds of delegates began streaming out of the meeting. “We have done everything that has been asked of us,” CTU President Karen Lewis said. “We do not want to strike, but apparently the board does.”

But district spokeswoman Becky Carroll says "We have continued to make progress over the last couple days. If there was truly an impasse we wouldn't be meeting every single day through the holiday weekend and into next week."

On Wednesday, the union filed a 10-day notice of intent to strike with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. Key issues that remain for the union are job security, pay, and a richer curriculum for students.

Lewis said the vote could help teachers gain more leverage in talks. “We are taking all of the steps we have to take. Every time we take a step, talks go better,” she said.

Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard fired back with a statement saying that “if our priority is our kids, then strike should never be an option. That's why we need to take advantage of each of the next 11 days and work until we reach a fair resolution for our teachers that will allow our kids to stay in school where they belong.”

CPS says that the strike will affect more than 350,000 students and that:

*Varsity sports for 11,000 student athletes will be suspended, though the district is asking the Illinois High School Association for a waiver that would allow practices and games to continue.

*More than 400,000 daily breakfasts and meals will no longer be served. The district’s strike contingency plan, rolled out Thursday, would allow students to have meals at 145 school sites.

*Transcripts and recommendations for 20,000 seniors will be put on hold.

But Lewis said the onus is on CPS to settle the dispute. “People should call the Board and put pressure on them to settle this… instead of talking to us about not striking,” she said. She claimed that CPS’ offer has not changed since May.

The union received more information at an executive committee meeting Wednesday as well as the delegates meeting Thursday about what teachers would need in order to avert a strike, but Lewis declined to discuss details.

She said the union and CPS have conducted over 45 negotiation sessions since last November. There were no negotiations on Thursday, but talks are scheduled to continue Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The union has another House of Delegates meeting on Wednesday Sept. 5. If more progress is made in talks, the House of Delegates could vote to suspend the strike at that time.

CTU members have complained recently that Brizard has not participated in negotiations. But Jim Franczek, an attorney at labor law firm Franczek Radelet who has represented CPS in numerous negotiation sessions, says that former CEO Arne Duncan never participated in negotiations in 2007 and only stepped in once during 2003 negotiations.

“CEOs rarely participate in labor negotiations anywhere,” he notes.

Teachers give strike rationale

Before the meeting, some teachers said they expected a Sept. 10 strike date, but others said they wanted more information about what CTU was offering.

“I hope they tell us we don’t have to go on strike because they came to a wonderful settlement. But that’s not going to happen. It’s not a question of if we strike, but how long,” said Marie Szyman, who works at Nathaniel Greene Elementary.

Jeremy Peters, a teacher at Paul Robeson High School in Englewood, said that teachers have been angry for years about disinvestment in neighborhood schools and the lack of democracy at CPS. “We have been itching for this fight for a long time,” he said. “I hope it leads to a bigger fight across the country.”

One key question as the union gears up for a potential strike is how much support it will have from parents. Setting a strike for the second week of the regular-track school year, Lewis noted, will give teachers the first week of school to organize and have discussions in their buildings.

It will also allow teachers to reach out to more parents.

“The parents are as beat down as the teachers are,” Peters says. “When the parents are informed as to what’s happening [to teachers], there is outrage. But so many of them are dealing with bread and butter issues – housing, food, rent – that it’s a luxury to think about.”

The unanimous vote indicates that the strike appears to be getting broad support across different caucuses of the union. Mark Ochoa, an O’Toole Elementary phys-ed teacher, was the CTU’s financial secretary under prior union president Marilyn Stewart and is a member of the United Progressive Caucus – an opposition group to the current Caucus of Rank and File Educators leadership. He says the United Progressive Caucus is in support of the strike as well.

“We are unionists. We believe in doing what we need to do for the union,” he says.

'Angry we were pushed to this decision'

Retired teacher Lance Cohn, who also taught at O’Toole, says that the contentious dance between the union and the district “has been going on for many, many years.”

“It’s a question of continuing negotiations, because negotiations haven’t broken down,” he says. “There might be an impasse reached, but not tonight.”

He says that with involvement from community groups and parents, “I’m not going to say we are going to win, but the union will get something much better, that the union can live with.”

But one teacher who believes there will be a strike is Kennedy High School delegate Zulma Ortiz, who is a member of the contract negotiating team.

“We are very sad. We are angry that we were pushed to take this decision,” Ortiz says. “How can you send people to negotiate our contract, when they have no idea what is our job, what we do day to day? Not knowing what is the daily routine of the office clerk, the teachers, the social workers. [The negotiators have] no clue what is going on--broken desks, no resources, no materials.”


Anonymous wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

zulma dont forget 33

zulma dont forget 33 kindergartners to a teacher

HA HA wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

Can't Wait

The dumb teachers of Chicago are now going to be replaced by young teachers from the Suburbs. Can't wait! Thanks Lewis for making our day! We are waiting to return to Chicago. You must have known. Now we can finally come back and put our children in public school. Rahm hurry up and get rid of this mess in Chicago!

Anonymous wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

I am a Teacher!

the frightening muse of room 202
is this incredible
I’ve often told students to absorb
environment and squeeze it
into writing, but I, hypocrite, cannot
check my mail without earplugs
and blinders now. There is always a top
story that burns my cheeks ashen,
until I am scattered by breath.
But there’s no headline for me
or for colleagues who’ve sold houses,
who’ve taken loans and grey-streaked temples
to brace for the fight.
These headlines are about these politicians,
their pockets, and their pride. Articles
full of double speak and forked tongue
hissing. The mayor and the board deal students
as playing cards in stacked decks.
They know nothing of the kids themselves:
Her grammar jokes, his zombie impression. That he’s afraid his father
is never getting out of jail and his mom has breast cancer.
That she is the first in her family to go to college
and got a full ride. That he came out of the closet, and his mother is praying
for evil to cease its possession. That she reinvents the world
in the page and then stages it. These kids swirl
in cutbacks, media overload, starved affections, and poetry.
They swear and swagger and smile metal.
The fact these kids are alive and breathing knowledge
in deadly communities is more miracle
than Lazarus rising. And they do—they baptize
their papers in ink and wash drafts clean
with red. They highlight, spotlight, moonwalk. I mean,
they are teenagers…there are mad dashes through
the halls, too many permits and dress code violations.
But they are green and sprouting: dandelions
and dahlias, ivy, wisteria, and willows.
I am a simple gardener, tilling
with words, preparing the ground—
loam, sand, silt, clay. The clay models itself
into familiarity. Into the expression
of understanding that’s unique to each child.
The board wants me to see only numbers,
to measure the kids with percentages,
to see them as payment and value-added.
But I am an English teacher.
Numbers have never been my thing.
I see that their learning is the shape of a yellow raft
on a green river. We are the river dwellers.
There is no salt in our water.
It feels wrong to hate politicians who have never met me,
but they made us feel miniscule—buzzing winged
things like gnats or mosquitoes—for being teachers.
It makes me hunger for Biblical
retribution. And I will be an insect…
in a plague of cicadas. We will be dressed as
a river of blood, a torrent of chant and noise.
There is no poem for this fight, for watching
the mild mannered lose their voices
from screaming chants, feet raw with marching.
Hands, callused for chalk, will be rubbed with new blisters
from holding signs.
If we are faceless, let us be the drought, the blight,
the salt in this freshwater city
so our students will not be nameless, faceless scores
in a city that hunts them for statistics.
We will be living the politics.
Not writing a poem.
I invite you (and ask you) to stand with me,
for them.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

Think It Out

Our Mayor Has Made This Mess!
I do not care what he does to get in the national spotlight.
Everyone is entitled to go for the gold, the brass ring.
Just do not disrespect all the hard working teachers who day after day
work to make the lives of our students better. We would not be in this mess if our Mayor had made better desicions early in his TAKE OVER of Chicago.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 19 weeks ago

to haha

I doubt any teacher in their right mind is going to come to chicago! Again...what part of one teacher with 34 students didnt you get. Top that with violent students and cruel principals....they would last a day with the 35k, 401k and 500 dollar a month health insurance rahm and the state are pushing!!! who is going to go to CPS?????

Anonymous wrote 2 years 18 weeks ago

You dont know a thing!


Anonymous wrote 2 years 18 weeks ago

Teachers are idiots ....

Teachers are idiots .... Chicago has the lowest test scores in the country and they expect a raise ?!?! They need to get their sh*t together ... 30+ students in a class who cares ... If they would done their job to begin with they wouldn't have so many students and extended hours

Anonymous wrote 2 years 18 weeks ago


Rahm is that you?

Sam wrote 2 years 18 weeks ago

Who is the idiot?

You are right, the public education system fact, the public education system failed you! Your college professors failed you! You can't spell or write a complete sentence! If test scores were based on the way you write, teachers would be fired!

Anonymous wrote 2 years 18 weeks ago


YOU want to teach in Chicago? You won't make it. If you are a new teacher you'll hate teaching so much after the first month you will wonder what the hell was I thinking wanting to teach? You won't be able to teach because you will end up in some run down school or a school with limited resources and you will be disciplining 85% of the time. Then you will wonder why you criticized. Stay in the suburbs where everything is hunky dory.
You are too ignorant to comment.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 18 weeks ago

If they would done... Your

If they would done... Your test scores must have been low and you have some nerve. You just abused the English language. Go enroll in a basic skills class and have a seat.

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