CHICAGO - "I'm carrying my purse, because they are trying to steal from us. I'm not wearing my earrings because we are in a fight!" declared new Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) administration "wants our jobs. They want our students," she charged. "Our students and communities are not for sale!"
Lewis was addressing several hundred teachers, students, parents and community allies at a Sept. 21 rally here, demanding the CPS rehire all 1,322 laid off tenured teachers after receiving $106 million in federal aid. The money was part of $26 billion passed by Congress to help states and municipalities prevent layoffs of teachers, firefighters, police and other public workers.
To date only 167 tenured teachers have been rehired. Meanwhile CPS has hired new non-tenured teachers at lower pay.
The Chicago Teachers Union has sued the city schools administration, charging the tenured teachers were illegally fired. The union still isn't sure exactly how many teachers have been rehired, since CPS refuses to tell them. So the CTU conducted a survey of its union stewards and found:
• 52 percent of all schools represented in the survey saw at least one tenured educator laid off. Schools losing a tenured teacher lost about three of them, on average;
• 60 percent of schools saw at least one non-tenured teacher laid off, with the number of probationary teacher layoffs at these schools coming in at three, on average;
• 70 percent of schools represented in the survey had at least one class that was over the class size limit, which CTU says is 28 for pre-K to grade 5; 31 for grades 6-12 "generally"; 28 for high school core classes; and 25 for remedial;
• 50 percent of schools saw support staff layoffs;
• 44 percent of schools saw cuts to student programs like sports, technology, and after-school opportunities, while 39 percent of schools saw student programs eliminated entirely;
• 33 percent of union delegates surveyed report that their schools have at least one placeholder teacher or substitute in classrooms.
The CTU is part of a growing chorus of voices demanding the city return over $700 million in surplus Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds that have been removed from education. TIF funds are monies accrued from property taxes that are diverted from education, the Forest Preserve and other public services into a mayoral "slush fund" used for economic development projects. The money often subsidizes large corporations and Mayor Richard M. Daley's cronies.
"There have been a lot of budget cuts, some teachers have been fired," said Anthony Hassan, who attended the rally with a boisterous group of his fellow students from Social Justice High School. "We haven't even gotten our lockers yet. A lot of classes are overflowing with kids and there aren't enough desks.
Yvonne Cardenas, a sophomore at Social Justice High School, said she was at the rally to fight to get teachers back. "It's really mean the teachers aren't with us and we have 35 students in a class. One teacher can't handle every student."
"I'm here fighting for the children," said Doris Powell, a staff development trainer for 25 schools. "I have a classroom of 36 students and we can not cheat these children out of an education."
"What is happening in our society is not separated from what is happening in our schools," said Jesse Sharkey, CTU Vice President. "The economic recession that has created layoffs, evicted millions and slashed social services is not going to stop at the schoolhouse gate."
Sharkey said while the captains of industry and Wall Street were doing well, teachers and students were being asked to make sacrifices, schools were closed, programs people depend on were cut. Giving in to the "slide to the bottom" will not stop the erosion of living standards and keep schools open, he said.
"We're going to stand up to that and we won't see a wedge driven between us and the communities," said Sharkey.
Photo: PW/John Bachtell