Saturday, April 2

The Cost of a Strike: The Battle Between CPS and CTU Rages On

The Chicago Teachers Union went out on strike on Friday, April 1. It was no joke. It was NO joke.

The CTU conversation went from an encouragement to participate to an expectation that no one would cross the picket line. So teachers who did not support the strike stayed home; the House of Delegates strike authorization vote was 496-124.

CTU called it a "Day of Action." Interesting. Some of the local media called it "Tantrum Day."

Sound bites were exchanged.
The union exhorted members to participate in the walkout with a bulletin listing several ongoing grievances with the district and a warning that "we know that (Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest) Claypool is planning scores of school closings, furloughs and layoffs for next school year." (Chicago Tribune, Mar 28)

"The mayor, why is he not doing everything he can to help with the funding (schools) need?" Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said during an interview with the Tribune. "And the governor — the reckless disregard of this governor is reprehensible," she said.
Mayoral spokeswoman Kelley Quinn emailed a response to Weingarten's criticism: "Mayor Emanuel and (school district CEO) Forrest Claypool have pushed harder for more funding than anyone in the state, and have consistently asked CTU to join the city in Springfield. While we appreciate any support we can get to fix a broken state funding system that penalizes poor and minority children in Chicago and around the state, we hope that Randi's support lasts beyond a 24-hour news cycle."
Rauner issued a statement Friday in response to the strike, saying: "It's shameful that Chicago's children are the victims in this raw display of political power. Walking out on kids in the classroom, leaving parents in the lurch and thumbing their nose at taxpayers — it's the height of arrogance from those we've entrusted with our children's futures." (Chicago Tribune, Apr 1).

300,000 students were not in school on Friday, April 1 of this year. Not next year; this year.

The financial state of Illinois is no joke either. The "raw display" of political power is also not a joke, and part of the traditional landscape of Illinois which has made the state of Illinois the butt of many a joke.

Now CPS is suing CTU to pay the costs for the strike. All the extra police officers who had to be on duty. The costs for the personnel and the contingency locations while teachers were (or were not) on the picket lines.

CTU and others contend that it's the fault of Gov Rauner, a first-term governor, for the state of CPS. Really? Like this tragedy hasn't been going on for decades. But Rauner has been painted as anti-union and it's true he's been pushing towards busting unions' grip on a lot of things. Unions that seem to make sure their members are protected even at the expense of everyone else who is not a union member or not a member of that particular union. As someone who has never been a member of a union, I'm not too happy about the way unions are manhandling the rest of us. And to blame this governor for all of the ills of the state is beyond ridiculous.

So the state won't rescue CPS. Or a lot of other organizations because the state is broke. Has a financial rating just above junk bond. And still CTU howls that the governor is doing a terrible job by not rescuing the teachers of CPS.

The state has broad authority to approve budget plans of troubled districts outside of Chicago, including the ability to block borrowing. But when it comes to CPS, the state's role after determining the district is in financial difficulty is only to "notify the governor and the mayor," according to Madigan's reading of the law (Chicago Tribune, Apr 1).
Lisa Madigan, the state's Attorney General, is also the daughter of His Majesty Mike Madigan, the Boss Man Speaker of the House (I'm obviously not a Mike Madigan fan).

What I find interesting about Lisa Madigan's reading of the law is that it suggests if the state is only to notify when the district is in difficulty, and if "the General Assembly intended to treat the Chicago Public Schools differently than other Illinois school districts with respect to financial oversight by the State Board of Education," then it's likely the General Assembly never intended for the State to try to rescue CPS. So everybody needs to stop looking to the broke state government to come to the rescue of CPS. . or anyone else. It's not happening.
"This is not a moment," CTU President Karen Lewis said to a raucous rally in the campus commons at Chicago State University. "Brothers and sisters, this is a movement. This is about empowerment for people who have been disenfranchised for so long — people who have given up, people who have thought 'this doesn't apply to me.'" (Chicago Tribune, Apr 2).
Karen Lewis makes me tired. You want disenfranchised? Look in the classrooms of kids who have few resources and terrible teachers who are more worried about their time off that doing their jobs. Look at the classroom aides who spend time scrolling through their social media and texting friends than actually helping kids. Look at the principals and assistant principals who are trying to make good decisions with little funding and less cooperation, with irate parents who get up in arms and start screaming horrible things with little information but lots of anger. Look at the administrators who are doing enough to hang on to their jobs until they can retire.

Here's my opinion. CPS and CTU have backed themselves into a corner. Neither can compromise easily nor gracefully without looking as though they have made too many concessions. CTU has raised the level of rhetoric so whatever CPS does it cannot be and will not be "enough." Being aggressive and contrary has become the status quo for CTU, and mostly Karen Lewis, so rational negotiation is no longer possible.

I was listening to the Hidden Brain podcast last night. I was listening again to the very first episode on switchtracking. In their 1-minute research summaries, Shankar Vedantam and Daniel Pink shared some really interesting research being done on communication, feedback, and listening. One of the research summaries referred to a study in which a group of men each responded to their wife's voice. The study found that the men reacted negatively and with suspicion to the advice or feedback given by their wives, and were not surprised that too often we all respond to feedback with suspicion that there is an ulterior motive. I wrote down and underlined three times: Assume positive intent!

I wonder what would happen if everyone at CTU, especially Karen Lewis, and everyone associated with CPS but especially Forrest Claypool and Mayor Emmanuel, would first "shake it off." Just step back, take several deep breaths, and hit a big ol' reset button. And then if they would engage in reasonable conversation and assume positive intent. Not only assume positive intent, but recognize that both sides are working from positions of strong emotion that may or may not be based on fact. It would be astonishingly amazing if they were reasonably honest with each other. If they kept the state legislature out of this (just assume that you really can't get any blood from that particular turnip) and sort it out. Thinking first (!!!) about the well-being of the kids, then fairness to the taxpayers (who may or may not have kids in CPS schools, who may or may not be members of any union, who may or may not be paid minimum wage, who may or may not have fundamental literacy skills themselves), then about what it really means to be sure teachers are paid fairly for the work they do.

In my opinion, CPS needs to keep assessing its personnel requirements and what they really need where to help teachers and administrators be successful, how to hold their own staffs accountable, and how to help administrators hold themselves and their teachers accountable.

At the end of Friday, 300,000 kids were not in classrooms. Some missed being in good classrooms where they would have had a day of learning. Some missed being in bad classrooms where they would have gone through motions of learning so those kids might not have missed much. Intellectually I understand why teachers strike. But I also understand what kids might "hear" and that's whatever the grown-ups are making noise about is more important than kids learning. And if the grown-ups don't think this learning thing is all that important, why should they?

Not every kids hears that, I know. So what else do they really hear when parents are grumbling about having to find a contingency, when getting to the contingency location provides additional hardship, etc.?

In that case, the cost of this strike and this tug of war between CPS and CTU is immeasurable. A lot of folks are going to pay for this some day, and not just in dollars and cents.

No comments: