Take 5: Taking to the streets, LSCs speak out, reform in Mexico

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Demonstrators staged a sit-in on Wednesday at City Hall where they called for more funds for schools and a civilian police review board.

Photo by Lauren Harris

Demonstrators staged a sit-in on Wednesday at City Hall where they called for more funds for schools and a civilian police review board.

Protests for more funding. On Wednesday, the first day of summer vacation, hundreds of Chicago Teachers Union members, students, parents and other community activists took to the streets to call on city leaders to find new revenue sources for schools, given the lack of any progress in Springfield to pass an education budget. Their proposals included many of the same revenue-generating solutions they’ve been suggesting for years, including a tax on financial transactions at Chicago’s Mercantile Exchange and diverting tax-increment finance dollars to schools. (Read more about their proposals here.)

“We are demanding that you open our school in the summer and … you open our schools on time in September and you stop this game of maybe. Because this city is not broke,” CTU recording secretary Michael Brunson told the Board of Education during Wednesday’s meeting. “There are billions of dollars floating back and forth every day, buyers’ and sellers’ transactions, untaxed in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.”

(The so-called “LaSalle Street Tax” is a long shot. As the Sun-Times recently noted, the proposal needs the approval of the state legislature but has just one sponsor.)

CTU members and other supporters later marched to City Hall and protested outside the City Council meeting, demanding an elected school board and an elected police accountability board.

At the School Board meeting, Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool berated the CTU for holding demonstrations instead of “working with us to put the pressure on Gov. [Bruce] Rauner and push the General Assembly’s bills to improve education funding to successful passage.” Rauner has repeated calls for bankruptcy for CPS.

CPS leaders are facing a $1 billion deficit next year and have warned that school might not open this fall without some solution to its fiscal problems.

Unfair labor charge. CPS has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the CTU, saying members who came to work on April 1, during a one-day strike, should not be expelled from the union. The district holds that the walkout was “illegal” and that teachers unions can strike only after the lengthy process outlined in state law. The union says it had the right to strike over what it saw as an unfair labor practice: the end of salary raises for more experience and educational attainment, which went into effect last fall.

Some 250 CTU members worked on April 1, according to CPS (though the union has said this figure is high). Union officials contend that the district was trying to distract attention from Wednesday’s demonstrations.

“We find it ironic that Mr. Claypool is now obsessed with defending the ‘rights’ of our members, when CPS has laid off more than 4,000 veteran educators…and has no fiscal strategy in place that will keep the doors open this summer, let alone in the months and years to come,” CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin wrote in a statement.

Members expelled from the union lose voting powers, but don’t lose their jobs or the protections afforded through collective bargaining. They can seek to be reinstated.

LSCs speak out. More than 500 elected members of local school councils from 140 schools signed on to a letter to Claypool and CPS Board members urging them to do their part to find new revenue for schools — and offered suggestions for cutting costs.

Some of the suggestions weren’t new, like a moratorium on new charter schools, cancelling plans to open a new selective-enrollment high school, and reducing testing. But the LSC members — who spoke at a Tuesday press conference and again during Wednesday’s board meeting — also asked CPS to conduct a “comprehensive, transparent audit of ALL contracts” and encouraged the district and CTU to consider decreasing the length of the school day and school year.

“While a shorter school day and fewer school days will be a hardship for many working parents, given this crisis and what we are facing with increased class sizes and the complete gutting of our schools, CPS must consider this option,” they wrote.

More complaints about City Colleges. Wednesday’s CTU demonstrations took place all across the city, including a march in front of hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin’s company Citadel, and in front of the central offices of City Colleges of Chicago.
Faculty and other activists protested the consolidations of programs that have taken place under the City Colleges’ “reinvention” plan.

“The mission of community college is being swept under the rug,” Julius Nadas, a 40-year veteran professor at Wright College, said during the protest.

A day earlier, Chancellor Cheryl Hyman defended her plan to reinvent City Colleges, saying the system sorely needed the goals and clearer educational pathways she and her administrative team have created over the last six years. She also shot down criticisms that higher-skill programs are being consolidated on the North Side and that City Colleges had boosted its graduation rates by offering two-year degrees to students with credits they earned at four-year schools. Hyman is slated to leave City Colleges in a year.

“My tenure has been stormy,” she said. “If it hadn’t been, we wouldn’t be talking about how City Colleges has made such dramatic improvements…You don’t change the status quo without some storms.”

Teacher protests in Mexico. Meanwhile, demonstrations by educators south of the border turned deadly this week. At least eight people are dead, dozens are injured and others are in jail after clashes between protesters and armed police in the southern state of Oaxaca. The violence came after a week of protests that disrupted traffic on a major highway connecting Oaxaca to Mexico City.

The Mexican national teachers union is a powerful political force and originally took to the streets months ago to protest education reforms that would require mandatory testing, which critics worried would pose a risk to teacher seniority and could lead to privatization of schools.

Supporters of the reforms say they are “urgently needed to improve flagging educational standards and root out corruption in teaching unions,” Reuters reports. The protests turned violent after authorities arrested several leaders of a division of the national teacher’s union for alleged corruption.