CHICAGO (Reuters) – A bitter dispute between unionized public school teachers and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has residents of the third-largest U.S. city bracing for a possible teachers’ strike on Monday in a showdown over education reform that has national implications.
Nearly 30,000 public school teachers and support staff represented by the Chicago Teachers Union have vowed to walk off the job starting at 12:01 a.m. (0401 GMT) on Monday if an impasse in contract talks with the city is not broken.
Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama and a speaker at this week’s Democratic National Convention, has made reform of Chicago’s troubled public schools a top priority. Emanuel cut short his trip to the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, to deal with the teacher crisis.
Earlier this year, he pushed through a longer school day, but the union is opposed to other proposed reforms, including tougher teacher evaluations tied to student test scores and giving principals wide latitude in hiring.
The union also wants more than the 8 percent pay raise over four years that Chicago is offering. The school district says it cannot afford concessions as it is running a large budget deficit and major credit rating agencies have downgraded its debt rating.
The threatened walkout, the first in Chicago in 25 years and one of the largest labor actions nationwide in recent years, comes at an awkward time for Emanuel’s former boss, President Barack Obama, who spent much of his adult life in Chicago and owns a house in the city.
Obama and his fellow Democrats facing voters on November 6 are counting on unions such as teachers to get out the vote around the country in a close election.
Chicago’s public school system, the third-largest in the country behind New York and Los Angeles, has more than 400,000 students enrolled.
Both sides in Chicago agree the city’s public schools need fixing. The city’s fourth-grade and eighth-grade students lag national averages in a key test of reading ability, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Until Emanuel forced through a longer school day, which began last week, Chicago elementary and middle school students received instruction for fewer hours a year than any of 30 major cities studied by the National Center on Time and Learning, an education reform group.
TOUGH NEGOTIATOR OR BULLY?
Emanuel, a tough negotiator called a bully by the teachers union, wants to close schools, expand non-union charter schools, and let corporations and philanthropies run some schools. He also wants principals to be able to hire whom they want, and he wants to use standardized test results to evaluate teachers.
The union wants to shrink class sizes and increase education funding. It is suspicious of efforts to erode job protections such as tenure, teacher autonomy and seniority. It believes charter schools – which are taxpayer-funded but not subject to all public school regulations – undermine public education.
“What Emanuel represents is a new breed of urban mayors, pushing for a whole system of school improvements … responding to public demand,” said Kenneth Wong, director of the Urban Education Policy Program at Brown University.
As the strike deadline approached, union president Karen Lewis told local radio on Friday she was heartened that a top school board official attended the talks on Thursday for the first time and seemed to understand the teachers’ concerns.(1)
Could there be division in the Democratic party? Rahm’s policies seem more like a moderate Republican, spending cuts along with tax increases. And there’s this movie we are not hearing about that was screened at both conventions.
Could it be A bi-partisan issue? ( Maybe Romney or Ryan will hit Chicago in support of Rahm? ) Or is reality just getting thru to a few?
The screening of the education movement’s parent-trigger film Won’t Back Down at the Democratic National Convention this week is causing turmoil among Democrats. The movie, much like the documentary Waiting for Superman, has prompted strong reactions from union leaders, activists and teachers.
Most Democrats view the public education system as the country’s great equalizer and see movies like Won’t Back Down as anti-teacher, anti-union and as a slick way to win people over to the side of those who want to privatize education.
Therefore, it came as no surprise to rank and file Democrats the movie received a warm welcome when viewed and discussed at the Republican National Convention last week. Republicans like Jeb Bush, Governor Rick Scott, Condoleezza Rice and a host of others across the country are on board with reforms like charter schools and vouchers.
But unlike Tampa, the decision to show the movie in Charlotte was so controversial it went all the way to the higher-ups in the Obama administration. The education issue has caused a rift between teachers unions who have been steadfastly loyal to Democrat politicians, and those within the Party that say they want more teacher accountability and school choice.
…the request for a Charlotte screening went to the highest levels of the Obama administration, which passed the decision off to the Democratic National Committee, according to a source with knowledge of the chain of events.
According to this source, Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s close personal adviser, and David Plouffe, his top political adviser, both saw the request but eventually handed the decision over to the DNC’s political director, Patrick Gaspard, who raised no objections.
Then there’s Randi Weingarten president of the American Federation of Teachers, who saw the movie in mid-August and surprisingly conceded unions had lost their edge when it comes to education.
We bear a lot of responsibility for this…We were focused — as unions are — on fairness and not as much on quality.
Weingarten’s own ties to the White House (her partner Hilary Rosen was a frequent WH visitor according to Michelle Malkin, meeting with Obama, Jarrett and Axelrod on separate occasions) may have been the reason for her statement. If there’s trouble in paradise between traditional unions and the Chicagoans in DC, who Ok’d the movie’s premiere at the DNC, it would make sense Weingarten might go easy on the movie.
Ten days later, however, Weingarten changed her tune. The President of the second largest teachers union in the country wrote a letter to “interested parties” denouncing the movie. Weingarten accused the moviemakers of “using the most blatant stereotypes and caricatures I have ever seen” and “affixing blame on the wrong culprit: America’s teachers unions.”
What prompted Weingarten’s sudden reversal? Is the Democratic Party showing signs of a complete ideological split: the new left on one side pushing charters, partnering with conservative billionaires and Hollywood to produce anti-union, anti-teacher movies; while on the other side stand the old union stalwarts who see reformers like Michelle Rhee and Kevin Johnson as entrepreneurial opportunists?
Rhee and husband Mayor Johnson who appeared at the RNC will also be at the DNC screening. Interestingly, Republicans Jeb Bush and Condoleezza Rice who attended the Tampa showing will not be in Charlotte.
Looks like the power shift within the Democratic Party is taking place before our very eyes.(2)
“To summarize, we expect … more bankruptcy filings and bond defaults among California cities reflecting the increased risk to bondholders as investors are asked to contribute to plans for closing budget gaps,” the report said.
I know what I would like to see happen in Chicago, privatize all the schools! There are major cities that have private police, fire and ambulance services. Why not do the same with schools? The problem here is we’ve let public service, which has government protections, exploit laws written to protect workers in the private sector. How would a private sector company deal with this constant push by unions? The big car makers gave in and passed costs on to consumers until they could no longer compete with foreign car makers (building in the US). Somebody needs to stand up to these unions and tell them NO! You want to drive? Buy your own damned bus and drive it wherever you want, ’cause we are out of here! Oh look! Somebody did! No Union Please, We’re Wal-Mart(5)
article with school day length mentioned, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/06/education-nation-in-chica_n_858452.html
past article on unions, https://standupforamerica.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/belabored/