First agenda item for new CTU president Karen Lewis: Confront CPS budget woes

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Stepping into the role as Chicago Teachers Union president-elect on Saturday, Karen Lewis said she will not take CEO Ron Huberman’s word that CPS’ deficit is $600 million and that she wants a full accounting of the district’s financial situation before making any concessions. 

Stepping into the role as Chicago Teachers Union president-elect on Saturday, Karen Lewis said she will not take CEO Ron Huberman’s word that CPS’ deficit is $600 million and that she wants a full accounting of the district’s financial situation before making any concessions. 
“Teachers got pink slips this week and we have yet to see the real budget,” she said at a press conference held Saturday morning in the foyer at King High School where Lewis is a chemistry teacher.
Lewis will immediately have to put her rhetoric to the test. On Friday, CPS officials announced that it will hold an emergency board meeting Tuesday morning to consider resolutions that would allow Huberman to lay off teachers, increase class sizes from 30 to 35 and borrow up to $800 million to cover late state payments. The board also is being asked to pass a resolution concerning the “Board’s ability to fund contractual wage and salary increases with CPS union members in fiscal year 2011. 
Through CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond, district officials congratulated Lewis and said “we look forward to working in partnership with the new leadership.”
Lewis said that she doesn’t expect many details at the board meeting on Tuesday. “Another power point,” she shrugged. She said she will try to convince Huberman that these proposals are not the answer and she will propose different solutions.
In a run-off election that took place Friday, Lewis got 60 percent of the vote, defeating two-time incumbent Marilyn Stewart. Stewart, who represents the UPC, came under attack for not fighting hard against CPS-administration led efforts like closing schools and opening charters that resulted in the loss of teacher jobs. 
CTU spokeswoman Rosemaria Genova did not return phone calls on Saturday.
Lewis represents and is one of the founding members of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators. CORE emerged two summers ago after Lewis and Jackson Potter, a teacher at Little Village/Lawndale High School, became frustrated with what they saw as the leadership’s willingness to accept the closing of neighborhood schools and the opening of charter schools. 
Joseph McDermott, a CORE delegate and teacher at Crane High School, said that over the last year CORE had pushed Stewart to take a harder stance against the CPS administration. And he said CORE’s win was the result of organizing.

“We energized the grassroots,” he said. “This is something Stewart didn’t understand.”

On Saturday, Potter said he thinks Lewis’ win signals that there’s been a “shift in how the public understands the reform agenda.” He said CORE will be aggressive in helping charter school teachers unionize and in fighting against such things as turnarounds and merit pay.  These things are unproven and waste of public money, he said. 
In opposing these efforts, CORE differs from Stewart and the national American Federation of Teachers, which have taken more of a position of compromise. 
Lewis laid out her position clearly on Saturday. She sees much of current reform efforts as driven by corporations. She said 15 years ago the corporations realized a lot of money was in public education and then decided to go into running charter schools and turnarounds. Now, she said it is incumbent on the union to take back public education.
“The business people do not have a clue, but they are the ones calling the shots,” she said