BY ROSALIND ROSSI, SANDRA GUY AND MITCH DUDEK Staff Reporters September 16, 2012 3:26PM
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, talks to reporters Thursday after Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates unanimously agreed to strike starting Sept 10. August 30 2012. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: September 16, 2012 7:40PM
After the Chicago Teachers Union announced Sunday it would continue its strike until at least Wednesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel accused the union of using kids as “pawns,” claimed the walkout was illegal and said he will sue to re-open the schools.
The mayor said he has asked the city’s top lawyer to work with the Chicago Public Schools’ lawyer to ask a judge for an injunction to “immediately end this strike and get our children back in the classroom.”
“I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute with the union,” Emanuel said in a statement. “This was a strike a choice, and is now a delay of choice that is wrong for our children.”
The mayor said the strike was illegal on two grounds: it’s based on issues that are non-strikeable, and it “endangers the health and safety of our children.”
The mayor, during the first days of the strike, referred to “non-strikeable” issues — but officials at the time said they weren’t ready to ask a judge to step in.
But now that a tentative deal has been reached and the union membership voted not to end the strike until it’s been reviewed, Emanuel is opting for legal action.
On Sunday, some 800 members of the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates gathered to hear details of the tentative deal.
But the delegates weren’t buying — at least for now.
As a result, the union said there will be no classes on Monday or Tuesday in Chicago Public Schools, which would stretch the strike into at least a 7th day of missed classes. The last strike — in 1987 — cost students 19 days of school.
Skeptical union delegates met Sunday afternoon — and voted to keep the strike alive at least until Tuesday, meaning class won’t resume until Wednesday at the earliest. Unless a judge grants an injunction and forces the teachers back into the classroom.
School Board President David Vitale blasted the union’s decision not to end the strike Sunday.
“There is no reason why our kids cannot be in school while the union reviews the agreement,” Vitale said. “We will do whatever we can and whatever is needed to support our parents and our students. We all need to put our children first.”
CTU President Karen Lewis said the decision not to return to class was about trust — union delegates didn’t trust the Chicago Public Schools’ latest proposal and wanted more time to review it.
With the Jewish holy day of Rosh Hashanah beginning at sundown Sunday, Lewis said out of respect it wouldn’t be until Tuesday when the delegates would reconvene to talk about the deal.
Some 800 union delegates who make up the union’s House of Delegates gathered Sunday, with anxious parents wondering if they would vote to end the first CTU strike in 25 years.
But Lewis emerged just after 6 p.m. with the bad news — no class on Monday or Tuesday.
“They’re not happy with the agreement. They’d like it to be a lot better for us than it is,” Lewis said of the delegates. “No sides are ever completely happy but our members aren’t happy and they want to have the opportunity to talk to their members.”
In a statement posted on the union’s website, the union said picketed will resume Monday morning.
“After a civil and frank discussion, the House of Delegates voted NOT to suspend the strike, but to allow two more days for delegates to take the information back to the picket lines and hold discussions with the over 26,000 members throughout Chicago. Teachers and school staff will return to the picket lines of the schools at which they teach at 7:30 a.m. Monday and, after picketing together, will meet to share and discuss the proposal.”
Delegates were not receiving formal written contract language about the deal so some wanted to keep the strike in place until they could see written language and bounce it off their constituents in schools.
Lewis said the delegates don’t trust the school board at this point.
“Why would you make a decision on something you haven’t had a chance to look at?” she said. “They have language. They see the language. But it’s not finished. We’ve been almost guaranteed that it might be finished by Tuesday.”
After the basic “frameworks’’ of an agreement were reached Friday, CPS officials had hoped delegates would find it warranted calling off the strike of the nation’s third-largest school system in time for classes to resume Monday.
Instead, delegates and union leadership said Friday that they wanted to see the deal “in writing” first. That skepticism continued Sunday, when delegates got a 23-page summary but not the final proposal, which is expected to number of 180 pages.
The deal offers some job protections for highly-rated teachers in schools that are closed, phased-out or consolidated.
The union had long fought for so-called recall for those teachers, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel identified job security as one of the two major stumbling blocks to a deal.
On the other hot button issue, teacher evaluation, CPS officials said student growth as measured in two different ways would count for 35 percent of a teachers evaluation in the fourth year of the proposed contract. It would rise to 40 percent after five years unless a joint committee decides it should not.
CPS said the cost of the deal is $74 million extra per year with increases for seniority and extra credentials factored in.
Lewis, however, said delegates were still not happy with the proposal.
“They’re still not happy with evaluation, recall, don’t like idea that recall benefits are basically cut in half,” she said. “The big elephant in the room is the closing of 200 schools. That’s where they are. They are concerned about this city’s decision, on some level, to close schools. It undergirds just about everything they talked about.”
On the union’s website, Lewis added: “This union is a democratic institution, which values the opportunity for all members to make decisions together. The officers of this union follow the lead of our members.
“The issues raised in this contract were too important, had consequences too profound for the future of our public education system and for educational fairness for our students, parents and members for us to simply take a quick vote based on a short discussion. Therefore, a clear majority voted to take this time and we are unified in this decision.”
Based on information provided by the CTU, the union appeared to make gains in the critical areas of recall of laid-off teachers and teacher evaluations.
The new deal also provided raises totalling 7 percent over three years, with the possibility of a fourth year at 3 percent, plus extra seniority bumps for more veteran teachers, according to the CTU news release.
The CTU news release late Saturday said the agreement includes:
◆ Raises of 3 percent, 2 percent and 2 percent over the next three years, with the option to extend the deal to four years “by mutual agreement” with another 3 percent raise.
◆ Preservation of “the full value’’ of steps and lanes -- or a structure that allows extra pay based on experience and credentials. Raises were secured for teachers with the most experience, in steps 14, 15 and 16.
◆ The hiring of more than 600 additional teachers in art, music, physical education, world languages and other so-called “special’’classes.
◆ The requirement that teachers be allowed to “follow their students” to other schools if the teacher’s school is subject to “school action,” such as closure.
◆ 10 months of “true recall” to the same school if a position opens.
◆ Creation of a “CPS hiring pool,’’ apparently linked to demands that one-half of all CPS hires must be laid-off or displaced CTU members.
◆ In new teacher evaluations, limits to 30 percent the weight given to student growth, down from what had been a maximum of 40 percent, and provides the right to appeal a “neutral” rating.
◆ Reimbursement of school supplies up to $250.
New promises also were secured to hire more social workers, counselors and nurses if money becomes available, including from tax increment financing sources. Some teachers were adamant that such support services are critical for children
Other new ground included provisions to curtail “bullying” by principals and other “abusive” administrative practices,’’ efforts to guarantee students and teachers have textbooks on day one, and an agreement to move to one school calendar, so that all schools start on the same day.
It was not clear if all schools would move to a year-round calendar with the current mid-August start, or to the traditional school year now in place that starts right after Labor Day — or something in between.
And, the CTU trumpeted, it had fought off an attempt to institute merit pay, something the union called “the star of national misguided school reform policies.’’ It has been an approach pushed publicly by Emanuel.
Contributing: Hunter Clauss