Chicago teachers to vote Sunday on ending strike

Rally vs Hyatt TIF2

CHICAGO- Teachers here will vote on Sunday, Sept. 16, whether to continue or end the weeklong strike. Some 800 elected union delegates met today and decided they needed to see - in writing - more details on the framework hammered out by negotiators.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told reporters progress has been made on key sticking points like teacher evaluations.

However, she said, teachers need to read for themselves what exactly the Board of Education is proposing and not just hear a general "framework".

"Our delegates were not interested in blindly signing off on something they have not seen," Lewis said.

Yet, Lewis was optimistic a deal can be reached in time for school on Monday.

"We think it's a framework that will get us to an agreement, but we are not quite there," she said, adding she is "hoping and praying" students will be back at school Sept. 17.

Until then the strike is in effect. The union is organizing a "Wisconsin-style" rally for tomorrow. Along with morning picket lines, there have been rallies all week long in the neighborhoods and citywide.

Yesterday, teachers and their many supporters rallied to protest wealthy interests who are looting taxpayer dollars and have left Chicago Public Schools (CPS) starved for cash.

Morgan Park High School marching band led the march from the Hyatt Hotel, a long procession that stretched for blocks down Michigan Avenue.

The CTU, along with community-labor coalition Grassroots Collaborative, targeted the Hyatt Hotel and its wealthy owners, the Pritzker family, because it recently received millions from property taxes in the form of Tax Increment Financing or TIFs. Some $500 million a year is skimmed from property taxes meant for public schools and parks and handed over to real estate developers and corporate giants like Hyatt and the multi-billion dollar Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Plus, billionaire Penny Pritzker sits on the unelected Board of Education.

"This city will continue to bleed red until we get what we came here for," declared teacher Tara Stamps to the thousands of protestors.

Stamps was referring to the ubiquitous red-shirted union members who have been on strike since Sept. 10.

"TIF money is our money. TIF money is our tax dollars that gets diverted, that means taken away from critical public services like education, and all too often gets used as corporate handouts," Stamps said.

The Hyatt Corporation received $5.2 million in TIF funds to build a new hotel in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Meanwhile, the Board of Education cut $3.3 million from five schools in the same neighborhood, firing 27 teachers.

But Hyatt wasn't the only corporation to receive the ire of the protesters. Rosalie Mancera of the Pilsen Alliance blasted the decision to divert money from that neighborhood to build a new Target store, which is not even in the community.

"They gave $18 million to 3 private companies, including Target," Mancera said. "In 10 years, Perez Elementary School got zero money from the TIF. Why give money to the Pritzkers? Why should children be asked to foot the bill?"

Matt Farmer, a lawyer and Local School Council member noted the hypocrisy of Pritzker and Mayor Rahm Emanuel who send their children to the prestigious Lab School at the University of Chicago.

"Class size matters. Rahm Emanuel knows that too. The Lab School advertizes its small class sizes and caps them at 24," said Farmer. "Mr. Emanuel and Ms. Pritzker, you know that when it comes to your children, class size matters."

Most CPS classes are much larger including in the 40s and growing. Class size and its impact on working and learning conditions has been a key issue for CTU.

Emanuel said class size could increase to 55 students.

Farmer also said the Lab School devotes funds to the arts, and has seven full time art teachers on its faculty. Many schools in Chicago are without art and music and 160 schools don't have libraries.

Farmer also described the crisis conditions many educators must deal with including students who live in communities facing poverty and gun violence. These conditions deeply impact children's ability to focus and learn and the teacher's ability to teach.

Farmer said there were 15,000 homeless students in the CPS and 370 social workers its 680 schools.

"These students and parents need help. But adding social workers and nurses doesn't" fit into the corporate-based school reform model being pushed, he said. "These are not stats, these are real people. It's wrong. It's part of public education by press release and we need to fight it."

Chicago teachers are on strike - not for the money, they say - but for working conditions, which are learning conditions for the kids.

This is about the children and good public schools, they say.

Teresa Albano contributed to this article.

Photo: Protesters demand taxpayer money go to public schools and community needs, not corporate welfare, Sept. 13. (David Fields)

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