Chicago Teachers Authorize Strike

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, the union announced today.  If that happens it would be the union’s second walkout in four years.

“Chicago Teachers Union members do not want to strike, but we do demand that you listen to us,” Jesse Sharkey, the vice president of the union, said in a statement addressing Mayor Rahm Emanuel and chief executive of Chicago Public Schools Forrest Claypool. “Do not cut our schools, do not lay off educators or balance the budget on our backs.”

According to the CTU, 91.6% of the nearly 25,000 eligible took part in voting conducted over three days last week.  Of those voting, 96% voted to authorize a strike, which amounts to 88% of those eligible. Under state law, at least 75 percent of union members must approve a strike before it can be called.  Jonah Edelman, son of Marian Wright Edelman and head of the education “reform” group Stand for Children, had spent millions of dollars on lobbyists to enact the 75% barrier, which he boasted would never be met.  It has now been surpassed twice.

The teachers’ contract expired in June, and negotiations have stalled over teacher evaluations, salaries, pension contributions and standardized testing. School administrators have threatened widespread layoffs as they try to address an alleged half-billion-dollar budget shortfall.  The union has said that the city is demanding changes that would result in a 12 percent cut to their compensation in the next three years.

In his statement, CTU vice president Sharkey called on Emanuel and the school district to

respect educators and give us the tools we need to do our jobs. In particular:

(1) Improve the teaching and learning conditions by reducing standardized testing, eliminate time-sucking compliance paperwork, and restore professional respect and autonomy to teachers on matters like grades. These improvements cost nothing;

(2) Staff our schools at an adequate level. We deserve reasonable class sizes, instruction in art, music, science and technology, a library with a librarian, a nurse;

(3) and, Help our schools and our communities address the social crisis in large swaths of our city. While we do not expect the schools to fix homelessness, broken immigration policy, crisis-level unemployment, and racism, we must address the undeniable fact that these problems spill over into our schools and devastate the lives of our children. We have modest demands to address these problems—allow our counselors to counsel, approve restorative justice programs in targeted schools, help with translation and bilingual services.

Chicago Teachers Union members do not want to strike, but we do demand that you listen to us. Do not cut our schools, do not lay off educators or balance the budget on our backs.”

In October, the former chief executive of the school system, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, pleaded guilty to accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks in exchange for steering $23 million in contracts to her former employer.

In addition to announcing the strike vote, CTU today also issued a report revealing that just two certified librarians are left at virtually all African-American Chicago public high schools.  According to the report,

The district’s failure to provide adequate funding has led to position closures, shifted librarians into classroom positions and left in disuse libraries that have been painstakingly built and supplied by their teachers. Constant funding precarity has also pushed out experienced and veteran librarians to seek other opportunities.

In 2012, 67 out of 97 schools had a dedicated certified teacher staffed as a librarian. After three years, half those high school librarians lost their positions or left their schools. This year, the proportion is reversed with just a third of all high schools having a librarian. . . .

The number of librarians staffed at high schools with a student population greater than 90% African American with a librarian on staff has dropped 84%, from 19 schools in 2012 to just 2 this year, at Chicago Vocational Career Academy, and Morgan Park High School. Across the 46 high schools with a majority African American student population, just 15% have librarians, and across the 28 high schools with an African American student population above 90%, just 7% do. In comparison, the dismal rate of librarian access across all CPS high schools is 32%. Such a deep disparity did not exist several years ago. In the 2012-2103 school year, 61% of high schools with a majority of African American students had a certified librarian on staff, compared to 69% across all district high schools.

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