Jim Vail – December 03, 2010
Now that the corporate ruling class is focused on destroying public education, all eyes are on the Chicago Teachers Union and how it will respond. CTU President Karen Lewis, who was recently elected to lead the fight against the powers that be — who are determined to gut teachers’ tenure, pension and compensation — told delegates about the recent Chicago Tribune editorial which demanded that the teachers union be stripped of its right to go on strike.
The December 16 mayoral forum sponsored by the Chicago Teachers Union will mark the entry of the CTU into municipal politics for the first time in the union’s 80-year history.”They’re already trying to get the people united against us,” Lewis told a room packed with over 300 delegates on Wednesday. The last teachers strike was over 23 years ago before the Amendatory Act of 1995 was passed.
The Amendatory Act gave Mayor Richard Daley dictatorial control over the Chicago Public Schools. His specific powers included the power to appoint all of the members of the Chicago Board of Education and to appoint a “Chief Executive Officer” to replace a General Superintendent as the chief executive at the school system. The CEO did not have to have any education background, and over 15 years Daley appointed three CEOs with no teaching experience or Illinois administrative (Type 75) credential: Paul Vallas (1995 – 2001), Arne Duncan (2001 – 2009), and Ron Huberman (2009 – 2010). Huberman resigned November 29, 2010 and is being replaced by Terry Mazany, who has been serving as the top executive officer at the Chicago Community Trust.
“I’m concerned we’re in a situation where our fear is paralyzing us,” Lewis told the delegates, urging everyone to overcome fear. Lewis pointed out that union teachers have to work with the community and parents to build alliances against the enemies of public education. She urged the delegates to be active in their Local School Councils and in the upcoming municipal elections.
Lewis said that the fear teachers feel, can turn into anger, which can then be channeled into action to fight back.
She said that the Board of Education would like to change the way teachers are compensated in the next contract by tying teacher salary raises to increased test scores, rather than the current system of seniority raises for each year of employment. Lewis said she would propose assemblying a team of 300 union members to negotiate the next contract, which generated a loud applause from the audience of delegates.
Each of the union officers gave a lengthy report on areas of concern. Vice President Jesse Sharkey told the delegates that at a recent collective bargaining conference in California, AFT leaders were telling the unions’ locals to be ready to make concessions. Sharkey said our organizing would be the answer to that.
Recording Secretary Michael Brunson reported on the most recent House of Delegates meeting.
Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle introduced new delegates and thanked the delegates and teachers for organizing elections to fill vacancies in the schools. The financial reports showed the union’s finances in better shape than in several years.
Norine Gutekanst, in charge of the CTU’s organizing department, told delegates about a plan to fight back against the proliferation of charter schools, which the Board has every intention of forging ahead with despite the growing concern in the city’s neighborhoods. She said 13 new charter schools started this school year, and about the same number is scheduled for next year. The Board plans to open 50 new schools in the next five years, and most will be charter schools and not performance schools which are still public schools with CTU unionized teachers. The Board will vote at its next meeting December 15 on six new charter schools, she said.
“We feel (charter schools) are threatening our neighborhood schools and draining our resources,” Gutekanst told the delegates. “They are trying to bust our union and privatize. This doesn’t mean that charter school teachers are our enemies, we just don’t want (charter schools) to threaten our neighborhood schools.”
Gutekanst then outlined the union’s focus to organize opposition to four of the charter schools to be voted on in the next Board meeting: Montessouri in Englewood, which was “kicked out” of the Avondale neighborhood last year, Legal Prep High School, near Lake and Damen streets which will threaten Crane and Marshall High Schools which have already been decimated by the flight to numerous charter schools on the west side, an UNO elementary school expanding to high school that the union believes will be located at 51st and Homan, and Christopher House, which would be located on the northwest side across the street from Northwest Middle School.
The union is planning to picket the December 15 Board of Education meeting from 7:30am to 9am, along the lines of ‘say no to charters and say yes to neighborhood schools.’ A pro-charter picket was organized at the last Board meeting led by Rev. Michael Pfleger, who along with several other high profile ministers with close ties to the mayor, has been a supporter of the Renaissance 2010 privatization plan.
The fight against charter schools is a definite change from the prior union leadership which focused on unionizing charter schools rather than fighting their expansion.
If the Board continues to increase the number of charter schools, which the federal Race to the Top is demanding in order to receive grant money, then thousands of additional public school teachers, assistant teachers and administrative jobs will be at stake in the near future. Charter schools in Chicago have already transferred at least 3,000 jobs that were once held by unionized CTU members to anti-union charter schools. All of that activity took placed during the six years that Marilyn Stewart was President of the Chicago Teachers Union and told union members not to fight against charter expansion.
The controversy in Area 11 — in which the “Chief Area Officer” Janie Ortega sent an email demanding principals to target two teachers at each school to fire — was raised by teachers at the meeting. CPS officials have said it was a misunderstanding, and sent a correction to the union. The letter has not yet been posted on the CPS website, which Lewis promised to do at the last delegates meeting. The union announced that there would be a meeting on Thursday for teachers in Area 11 to address the “threats and harassments” coming from Ortega. The meeting was to take place at the Marquette Park Field House in Marquette Park. Lewis urged all delegates from Area 11 to participate in the meeting.
Joey McDermott, in charge of the CTU’s aldermanic outreach, said that the union will host a mayoral forum on December 16th in which the Rev. James Meeks and City Clerk Miguel Del
Valle have committed, with US Rep. Danny Davis likely to attend, while former Board of Ed president Gery Chico and former US Sen. Carol Mosely Braun are still undecided. The leading candidate blessed by Daley and the machine to be the next mayor has declined the invitation, former chief of staff and US Rep. Rahm Emmanuel, McDermott said.
“If (Rahm) doesn’t show, his absence will speak volumes,” McDermott told the delegates.
McDermott said Cliff Kelley from WVON will moderate the mayor candidates forum to be held at the Operating Engineers Hall where the House of Delegates convene. After the forum, the CTU’s Political Action Committee will recommend an endorsement and then the CTU delegates will vote on the endorsement at the next house meeting in January before the Feb. 11 aldermen and mayor election. A clear majority of delegates stood up when McDermott asked who would attend the forum.
“This is the beginning of our power, our unity and our strength,” McDermott said.
The ashes of the UPC (United Progressive Caucus), the former ruling union party, flickered periodically throughout a vigorous meeting. When one teacher complained that her students will have to take 24 high stakes tests, eliminating hours of instructional time, UPC stalwart Diane Blazak from Onahan Elementary School immediately countered by saying the teachers in Park Ridge, a top suburban school district, must also take the same number of tests, so it only makes sense to do the same to be the best. Blazak blazed up again to briefly counter the motion to approve the mayor candidates forum (which passed unanimously), stating that there would be CPS teachers who live in the suburbs and therefore would not have the city’s interests at heart at the forum. Both objections were met with stony silence.
One moment of irony appeared when Lewis cited former field rep Jerald Siegel as a positive example of what to do in the face of fear when teachers are being attacked. She said that if teachers don’t want to sign their names on grievances, then she will do it, and looked at Sigel sitting in the back of the room with other UPCers, and quoted him, by saying “you smile and file.”
Before the meeting Siegel was passing out protest fliers against the current CTU leadership by listing new CTU employees with compensation over $100,000, and demanding “immediate” elections for seven area functional vice presidents because those teachers are now union employees. The numbers cited in the UPC leaflet (which was distributed anonymously without any reference to who produced it or how people could contact those who were responsible for it) were disputed by the union officials who were named in it.
Curiously enough, two of the UPCers passing out the protest flyers were Jerry Siegel, who earned over $160,000 (according to the IRS) as a field rep last year, and Mark Wigler, former head of the Quest Center. As part of the “Fresh Start” program, Wigler helped the Board of Education fire four tenured teachers. Wigler is now reportedly working at the Board of Education’s Clark St. headquarters.
A report from the union’s Rules-Elections committee outlined the proposed procedures for the election of a retiree “functional vice president.” The procedures were approved by a vote of the House, and the nominations for the office will take place following the December 14 retiree holiday luncheon at Maggiano’s Restaurant.
Toward the end of the meeting, Chicago Academy delegate James Cavallero made a motion for the union to support union activists (SEIU and other unions) who were raided by the FBI and accused of being terrorists after they had been actively demonstrating against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Lewis quickly referred the motion to the “Human Relations” committee, which according to last count was named the Human Rights committee. The name change, apparently to suit a political correctness crowd, follows in the footsteps of the Board of Education’s recent decision to rename its Human Resources department the office of “Human Capital.” The name changes call to mind President Clinton’s decision to rename his alleged enemies North Korea, Iran and Iraq, from “rogue states” to “countries of concern.”
As ominious clouds continue to gather over the Chicago public schools and its employees, the popular refrain comes to mind: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.