Demoralized after being scapegoated for problems in Chicago Public Schools, Chicago's teachers are gearing up for what could be their first strike since 1987.
Like many teacher unions around the country, the Chicago Teachers Union has faced multi-faceted attacks in recent years. Republicans and conservatives have predictably supported these attempts to weaken the union and reduce workers' rights—often through legislation singling out the CTU. But the decisive initiative has come more from a strain of well-financed corporate backers of reform-focused on charter schools and from Democrats both in state government and the Mayor's office, especially the current mayor, Rahm Emanuel.
Now the union is negotiating a new contract that could easily lead to the first teachers strike in the city since 1987. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is demanding drastic changes in the contract, many of them designed to implement and expand legislative and administrative changes that political leaders knew would conflict with the contract of the 25,000 teachers and support staff of the CTU.
For example, amidst protests from parents in varied neighborhoods, Emanuel decided to lengthen the school day from one of the shortest in the country to the longest (7.5 hours, but as a compromise with parental opponents, 7 hours for elementary students). But the mayor offered no plan for how schools would use the extra time or how the cash-short system could afford the expansion except by getting more work out of teachers without pay.
Emanuel and his superintendent, Jean-Claude Brizard, are pushing at least "five big changes all at once," says CTU vice-president Jesse Sharkey, "but none of the people pushing them has a good idea of how it will work. They're blowing up the system."
Despite school governance reform dating back to 1987, mayoral control since 1995, the closing and reconstitution of 100 schools, expansion of charter and magnet schools, widespread use of standardized testing, and other changes, Chicago's school system is a troubled, two-tiered system. It includes many of the best, highest-scoring schools in the state—many but not all designed, as Emanuel recently acknowledged obliquely, to keep middle-class and professionals, mainly white, from choosing the suburbs over the city. But drop-out rates remain high and scores low at many of the neighborhood schools serving the city's poor black and Latino neighborhoods.
Throughout these decades of varied reforms, however, the CTU has virtually never taken the lead in proposing effective reforms, has rarely cooperated even with reform groups not intrinsically anti-union, and has adopted a defensive approach that has lost the union public and political support.
The current CTU leaders—elected in 2010—have offered a reform plan of their own. "It's the first time I've heard of this union coming up with a plan so comprehensive and holistic," Sharkey says. "One goal is to be seen as people who also care about good schools. But it's also because we're thinking about the contract talks in broad terms--what kind of schools we want."
The union's plan includes smaller class sizes (which education research shows is most valuable for poor, disadvantaged students); an enriched curriculum (40 percent of Chicago schools have no more than part-time instruction in either art or music, according to CTU); more counseling and support services; teacher mentoring, support and professional development; and reduced paperwork and standardized testing (potentially saving $100 million a year, not counting teacher time diverted to test preparation, the union estimates).
Although the contract expires June 30, negotiations started late last year, and under the new laws designed to make it harder for CTU to strike, any strike would probably be illegal before August. In any case, the union's leverage increases when the school year starts.
CPS is proposing a 5-year contract with a 2-percent pay increase in the first year but also implementation of the roughly 20 percent longer school day. In the third year, CPS would eliminate all the pay increases linked to experience or education and switch to merit pay based on a new system of evaluation heavily dependent on student test performance. The administration also wants to prevent employees from accumulating unused sick days and to eliminate any contractual limits on class size.
For its part, the union wants much of its reform plan for enriched curriculum with new staff, smaller classes, and more social work support. It wants a way to assure re-hiring of otherwise qualified teachers from schools that are closed for reorganization. And it wants substantial wage increases, estimated at 30 percent over a two-year contract.
"We see that work will be harder next year," Sharkey says. "We're asking for a pretty healthy raise."
Teachers and other union members, many demoralized by their scapegoating for school system problems, are already showing signs of militancy and solidarity, such as wearing red to school on designated days, Sharkey says. State law now requires a fact-finding review with an arbitrator that is now underway, followed by a cooling-off period if that produces no agreement. And the law requires 75 percent of teachers to vote approval before a strike can be called. From preliminary surveys, the union seems confident members are ready to strike if needed, and CTU president Karen Lewis has recently sounded more resigned to that necessity.
"I hope it doesn't come to that," Sharkey says. "I hope the district makes a reasonable proposal so this doesn't come down during the [fall] political campaign. But if it comes to a head weeks before the election, we're going to treat our contract, our members and the schools as the overriding concern. I know politicians will call and say, 'Don't mess up the election.' We'll say, 'Sorry, our timetable will not be driven by the election."
Link to original article from In These Times
It’s official: Illinois on Wednesday joined 15 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, accompanied by state Rep. Greg Harris, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and several other dignitaries, signed into law a measure allowing gay couples to begin marrying on June 1. “It’s a triumph of democracy, a triumph of government by the people,” said the governor, shortly before signing. “We want to have a new birth of freedom across America, and love is not relegated to second-class citizen status.”
The historic nature of...
Emma Margolin | MSNBC.com 21 Nov 2013 Hits:340 Illinois
On Monday, November 18 at noon almost 100 voters rallied in Springfield to ask Senator Richard Durbin to keep cuts to Social Security off the table. Senator Durbin has proposed possible changes such as lifting the Social Security eligibility age and implementing “Chained CPI” for individuals that earn more than $24,000. After an informational picket along Edwards Street the group followed lead organizer JoAnn Conrad retired AFSCME, IEA-NEA, chair of the Progressive Democrats of Greater Springfield, led the rally across Edwards to the senator’s office. The message was “Scrap the...
JoAnn Conrad 18 Nov 2013 Hits:380 Illinois
Those who rely on food stamps will have to make do with a little less beginning today as a boost in funding from the federal stimulus package is set to expire.
The change will affect more than 2 million low-income residents in Illinois who are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services. Nationally, about 47 million people are expected to feel the pinch.
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Monique Garcia | The Chicago Tribune 03 Nov 2013 Hits:333 Illinois
As another coal train derailed in southern Illinois last weekend, the Illinois State Historical Society teamed up with the Illinois Coal Association on Saturday for their own collision with history during the installation of a historical marker for the state's "First Coal Mine." The real train wreck: Among numerous errors, the Illinois State Historical Society marker fails to mention that other coal mines abounded in southern Illinois, thanks to enslaved African American labor -- including the so-called "first coal mine" -- while the Illinois Coal Association took the occasion...
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The pinnacle of last week's Take Back Chicago rally at UIC came near the end, when the 11 aldermen onstage were asked point-blank whether they support pending proposals to slow privatization and tax increment financing deals. Yes or no?
As more than 2,000 of the city's most dedicated activists looked on, the aldermen all said yes—even though a couple of them are among the most consistent council supporters of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
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Two sections that essentially told kids that coal was safe and good for the environment disappeared today from the website of a state agency in Illinois.
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Dear Rep. Schock,
I am a constituent, writing in my role as coordinator of the Greater Peoria Chapter of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA).
I and other PDA members were at your town hall meeting in Heyworth, where some of your constituents encouraged you to vote to shut down the government unless the Affordable Care Act is defunded. In reply, you made the sensible point that ACA can't be defunded through the budget process, and that shutting down the government would bring extremely negative political consequences for Republicans. You also stated that...
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For many residents in southern Illinois dealing with the fallout of a sanctioned coal and fracking rush, the time has come to revamp the historic Illinois South organization and its role in providing impacted residents with a voice in state and federal regulatory matters.
Call it deja vu all over again.
And perhaps no one understands this better than Rev. Dave Ostendorf, the co-founder of the Illinois South citizens group in 1974, and a long-time community organizer for civil rights in Chicago and across the heartland and nation.
"Building critical mass around the...
Jeff Biggers | Huffington Post 06 Sep 2013 Hits:479 Illinois
Two years after a national campaign exposed a coal industry-bankrolled curriculum foisted on unwitting teachers and children, the state of Illinois is still dragging its feet to revamp its own widely denounced, misleading and climate change-denying "Coal Education Program" for schools.
Here's the punchline, kids: On the heels of a recent study that the coal industry annually drains nearly $20 million from the Illinois state budget, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's Office of Coal Development now says it's too broke to promptly respond to a long-awaited evaluation of the...
Jeff Biggers | Huffington Post 29 Aug 2013 Hits:513 Illinois
On the cusp of a hydraulic fracking rush, southern Illinois should recall its boom-bust history
CARMI, Ill. —
When an oil rush swamped her town of Carmi in the early 1940s, my great-grandmother leased her small farm acreage for drilling, but the wells came up dry. So she installed a new bathroom and cashed in like the rest of her neighbors, boarding the roustabouts. At 150 million barrels per year, Illinois pumped out more petrol in those days than Iraq and Iran combined.
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Jeff Biggers | Aljazeera America 16 Aug 2013 Hits:446 Illinois
When farmers, families and besieged Hillsboro residents gather this evening for a public hearing on a controversial permit proposal by a coal company to build a second 77-foot-high high hazard toxic coal slurry impoundment within city limits, the stakes will go beyond the threatened health of this iconic central Illinois farm town.
(photo: Jeff Biggers article: Coal Slurry Scandal: Gov. Quinn, the High Hazard Dam in Hillsboro Is a National Disgrace. Construction on High Hazard Coal Slurry Impoundment at Deer Run Mine, Hillsboro, IL, 8/12/2011, prior to receiving proper permit, photo courtesy...
Jeff Biggers | Huffington Post 14 Aug 2013 Hits:576 Illinois
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Pamela Powers Hannley | Tucson Progressive 10 Aug 2013 Hits:598 Illinois
Has Rep. Brad Schneider finally gone too far with his recent vote against implementing the very small amount of health care reform that was so very hard won?
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Ellen Beth Gill | Daily Kos 22 Jul 2013 Hits:607 Illinois
Brad visiting the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge with Rep. John Lewis earlier this month. (From his Facebook page)
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Jeanne Dauray | PDA Illinois 28 Jun 2013 Hits:817 Illinois
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Legislators Who Have Cut Ties To ALEC