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Chicago Teachers Countdown to Strike Time

The union’s top priority is a “better school day” for all of Chicago’s students, one that would include art, music, gym, recess, and foreign languages.
 
 
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This story originally appeared at Labor Notes

Chicago teachers starting back to work this week might not want to get too comfortable in their classrooms. After weeks of stalled negotiations with the school board, the Chicago Teachers Union is inching ever closer to a strike.

On Wednesday the union’s House of Delegates authorized President Karen Lewis to give the board a 10-day strike notice at her discretion. Though Illinois teachers, unlike those in many states, have the legal right to strike, under last year’s anti-teacher law they have to notify the school board 10 days ahead of going out. Ninety percent of teachers—and 98 percent of those voting—voted to authorize a strike in June.

CTU Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle says the union still hopes to avoid a strike, but is prepared to walk if necessary.

“Of course our teachers want to be in the classroom with our students, but we realize this is a bigger fight for the good of public education,” Mayle said. “The future of public education in Chicago will be threatened if we don’t take action now. “

The union’s top priority is a “better school day” for all of Chicago’s students, one that would include art, music, gym, recess, and foreign languages. CTU wants smaller class sizes and wraparound services like social workers, counselors, and school nurses to make sure that the district’s mostly poor students get the support they need.

The district, on the other hand, has been slashing services for years and cites a $665 million anticipated budget deficit for next year. Many schools lack basic playground or gym equipment and 160 are without libraries.

“How dare they tell us that poor kids aren’t worth the investment?” said middle school teacher Kimberly Bowsky. “I’m not going to stand for it. And if I have to get knocked down for it, that would be regrettable. But at this point what choice do I or anyone else have?”

The union is demanding adequate staffing levels for the teachers, paraprofessionals, social workers, school nurses, counselors, psychologists, and librarians it represents, clear job descriptions, and protected preparation and break time. Though not a mandatory subject of bargaining, CTU is pushing hard for smaller class sizes and the ability to enforce them.

Also priorities for the union are recall rights for teachers displaced by school closures, fair compensation—no merit pay—and reducing the reliance on standardized tests for teacher evaluations. A new evaluation scheme would base half of a teacher’s grade on student scores.

Bowsky said, “My contract can deal with things children need. I don’t believe in this garbage they keep saying about us only thinking about ourselves.”

LONGER BUT NOT BETTER

Stuck negotiations had appeared to be moving again after the union and the board reached an interim agreement on a longer school day earlier this month. Under the agreement, the school day was lengthened, but teacher work hours remained the same. Prep periods were moved from the beginning or end of the day to the middle and 500 new positions were created to staff the extra time. Principals made decisions on what subjects those in new positions would teach at their schools.

The new schedule was in effect when 240 schools on a special “Track E” schedule started up in mid-August. The rest of the district’s more than 600 schools will open their doors to students on September 4.

While schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard says the new longer day is working, the union says otherwise.

Teachers say they’re being forced to take on other duties during their prep periods in violation of the agreement. Schedules for those in new positions have been in constant flux since the Track E schools started two weeks ago.

 
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