Teacher Appreciation Week in Chicago: a cut in pay?

CHICAGO – It’s Teacher Appreciation Week here. The principal of my school had a catered breakfast for us and presented each of us with an ID lanyard with our name embroidered on it-one of the most thoughtful workplace gifts I’ve ever received.  All in all, it was a lovely morning.

Chicago Public Schools had a little more trouble finding the same festive tone.  Teachers received an email from Interim CEO Jesse Ruiz, stating, “Please see the attached letter. Thank you.”  The letter was standard stuff: remember that one great teacher who inspired you, we know your job is super difficult, you shape the next generation, etc.  Thank you, Mr. Ruiz, for your kind words.

I’m sure Actual CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett also appreciates us, but she’s under federal investigation, and probably has more important letters to write, or shred, or whatever. We understand, ma’am, and we know we’re in your thoughts.

The real winner for Teacher Appreciation Week festivities, though, is the Chicago Board of Education. Teacher Appreciation Week had barely gotten underway when news broke that the board had demanded that teachers take a seven percent pay cut! 

This came as a surprise to me, since I thought they had already cut down to the bone on funding for CPS.  Fifty elementary schools closed, janitorial services privatized, classrooms under-resourced and overcrowded, schools without librarians, nurses, art teachers…

“Surely,” you’re saying to yourselves, “surely the mayor’s handpicked cronies on the Board of Education have exhausted every other solution, tapped every other source of revenue, before asking public school teachers to take a cut in pay.”

A list of the solutions they haven’t tried reads like a good governance manual:

  • a financial transaction tax, to make the LaSalle St. banks pay their fair share
  • putting TIF money into the neighborhood schools, rather than using it as a slush fund for the Loop and Gold Coast
  • renegotiating interest rates with Bank of America and other lenders
  • cut out wasteful no-bid contracts to education “consultants” like SUPES Academcy

In fact, taxing the rich, negotiating with big banks, and using public funds in an honest and transparent manner seems so simple that even the corporate shills on the Board of Ed could figure it out.  Instead, the mayor has threatened to raise property taxes in an attempt to turn city residents against teachers.

The Chicago Teachers Union is right: CPS is “broke on purpose.”  The budget crisis that has the mayor and his cronies wringing their hands was engineered to bust public workers and their unions, undermine confidence in the public sector, and further the corporate agenda of privatization.

Enough is enough.  As we saw in the mayoral elections, a people’s movement is building in Chicago.  It’s a movement for justice, for democracy, for transparency; it’s a movement against privatization and misrule by corporate elites.

Consider it a small gesture of appreciation for the hard work the One Percent has done to gut our public services.

Photo: Teachers on strike in downtown Chicago.  |  John Bachtell/PW