Karen Lewis says a teachers strike likely

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By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader

Speaking at the City Club of Chicago Wednesday afternoon, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis spelled out her case for a new teachers’ contract and questioned a call from Chicago Public Schools’ CEO Forrest Claypool for the CTU to join him in Springfield to get more dollars.

Lewis told the audience at sold-out Maggiano’s Banquets, 111 W. Grand Ave., the chance for a strike before the end of the school year was likely. She also said CPS is wasting money by privatizing services, fighting legal battles they cannot win, in addition to destabilizing neighborhoods by closing schools or underfunding them. She ended with some scathing remarks about .

“Mr. Claypool and the rest of his team should repurpose the district’s administrative direction and actually get back to managing the business of the district,” stated Lewis. “They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars outsourcing management functions. Just recently, we have learned that CPS intends to phase out unionized building engineers—people who provide a critical function in our buildings. We have seen what has happened with Aramark—dirty school buildings, rodents and overall filth making the teaching and learning environments unsafe.”

Lewis said CTU leaders are still awaiting reports on three serious incidents that recently took place in schools last year between October and December; they all involved possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

Incidents have occurred at Prussing Elementary School (10/30/15), Shields Elementary School (11/20/15) and Mann Elementary School (12/3/15). Dozens of students, teachers and other school personnel had to be evacuated from the buildings and received medical treatment.

Lewis said students and their parents feel as though there is a “war against them.” She went on to say the destabilizing of school communities is having an effect on the larger problem with crime in Chicago and a sense of hopelessness in many communities. Schools are community institutions and when they are closed or not working at optimum capacity, it has a ripple effect.

“Gross mismanagement, the closing of schools, the starving of school budgets, the disruption of education services, the dismantling of special education programs, the revolving door at Central Office, and the removal of beloved teachers, coaches and school employees who have made meaningful differences in the lives of so many, has become the rule of the day,” Lewis said. “We see this as an assault on public education. We see this as an assault on public school teachers, and we know this is an assault on our students’ futures.”

Lewis also took a swipe at Rauner. She said just because a person is rich does not mean they have intelligence. She called the governor a con who duped the people of Illinois into thinking he could fix serious problems when he actually has no clue.

She criticized the governor for using his clout to get his daughter into Walter Payton College Prep, a CPS school and one of the top schools in the state, according to a rankings list by U.S. News and World Report, while abandoning funding to neighborhood schools and state colleges and universities.

“This so-called governor clouts his child into one of our high schools, but then has the audacity to deny about 130,000 college students MAP grants to assist them in their higher education. He is threatening to close Chicago State, a predominantly African-American university that will reportedly graduate three physicists this school year,” Lewis said.

Claypool responded to Lewis’ speech by saying he and the district remain at the bargaining table and that a strike hurts everyone. He said a contract offer a few months ago rejected by the CTU members was disappointing, but he is still hopeful a work stoppage can be avoided.

Claypool also acknowledged CPS has already cut to the bone and the financial situation does not look good. CPS’ credit rating recently took a downgrading hit, which means any borrowed money would have to be paid back at an even higher interest, even if they could get a loan. Lewis said CPS does not have the money to offer a legit contract so finding new revenue sources should be a priority.

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