Teachers, charters rally at School Board meeting

July 25, 2012

Tuesday’s announcement that CPS and CTU had reached a partial teacher contract agreement set the stage for a quiet board meeting on Wednesday, where routine items were approved. Most of the action, subdued as it was, took place before the board meeting in two rallies and a press conference.

On Clark Street in front of the board office, a throng of teachers marched and stopped to listen to CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. Sharkey, who is one of the union’s chief negotiators, told the crowd that it was their participation in rallies and the strike authorization vote that resulted in the partial agreement. In the agreement, CPS promised to hire 477 new teachers and give preference to teachers displaced over the past two years.

“You got the board to climb out of their bulldozer,” Sharkey said. In exchange for having additional art, music and enrichment teachers hired, the CTU said it would accept the longer school day that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing—though the mayor and the board have the right to impose a longer day in any case.

Sharkey said that CTU has other issues that still must be resolved and warned the members: “You should be under no illusion that the tiger has changed his stripes.”

CPS officials said the extra teachers would cost the district between $40 and $50 million. Knowing that the district has a tight budget, a smaller rally across the street featured parents and staff from UNO Charter School Network. The group--and other charters earlier this week-- said they are worried that charter schools will not get the additional money reserved for them in the proposed CPS budget.

CPS’ proposed budget includes $76 million in additional funding for charters and was originally on the July board meeting agenda, but the vote was delayed as contract negotiations continue.

Inside the foyer of CPS headquarters, Stand for Children and Education Reform Now Advocacy, two national groups with local chapters, said they commended the union and the district for working out an agreement that secures the longer day. Both groups are enthusiasts of the longer school day, running ads and holding tele-townhalls to bolster support. They also had criticized the union for holding a strike authorization vote before school let out for summer break.

Stand for Children Political Director Juan Gonzalez said his group liked the idea that the longer school day will contain more enrichment classes, such as art and music. But he stopped short of admitting that the strike authorization vote provided the pressure that led to the agreement. “I think there were a lot of things and not any one thing,” he said.