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Editorial: Teacher union’s unwise ‘strike of choice’

Karen Lewis president Chicago Teachers Unitalks medias Chicago Public Schools will be strike this Monday. | Scott Stewart -Sun-Times

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union talks to the media as Chicago Public Schools will be on strike this Monday. | Scott Stewart -Sun-Times

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Updated: October 11, 2012 6:24AM



Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has taken her members over the edge.

Monday starts Chicago’s first teachers strike in 25 years.

It didn’t have to be.

The Chicago school system this weekend put a good — not perfect — but good offer on the table.

But the union, clinging to an unrealistic notion of what it can accomplish through labor negotiations, rejected it.

From the get-go, the union seemed intent on striking. Sunday happened to be the trigger day.

Even late on Sunday night, as Chicago School Board President David Vitale tried to reach Lewis, the union president did not respond to his cellphone text. Lewis says she didn’t see it as she worked the phones with national labor leaders.

After announcing the strike, Lewis texted Vitale, asking about their next meeting. Nice to hear talks will continue, but how about a text before the strike announcement?

As parents scramble for day care and teachers hit the picket lines starting at 6:30 a.m., we are hopeful the strike will be brief.

No, we are not starry-eyed optimists.

The strike should be brief because, as we’ve said for weeks, a fair settlement is within reach.

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel put it Sunday night, this is a “strike by choice. . . . This is totally unnecessary, unavoidable and our kids do not deserve this.”

The broad contours of a deal were there Sunday night. It’s now up to the CTU to make it happen.

The board has already come a great distance. It sweetened the proposed cost-of-living raise, maintained raises for each additional year of experience and softening a new teacher evaluation system slightly.

But CTU President Karen Lewis and her bargaining team wouldn’t bite. They are mainly stuck on two issues: teacher recall and teacher evaluations. Emanuel said teachers cannot strike over either issue by law. They’re also still fixated on issues that cannot be resolved at the bargaining table, such as financial resources for schools and wraparound social service supports for students.

They are right to fight for these issues — but they are not ones that warrant keeping 350,000 students out of the classroom.

Raises: CPS came up only slightly from its latest offer of 8 percent over four years. Sunday’s offer was 3 percent in the first year and 2 percent in each of the next three.

The board also caved on “steps,” or annual raises for experience. This is a big give. CPS has offered a modified plan that will result in a 16 percent raise over 4 years. That’s a strong offer in this economy.

Recall: CPS has proposed reducing from 10 months to five the time a laid-off teacher gets her full salary while she is looking for a new job. That will save the cash-strapped school system plenty. But the CTU, anticipating dozens of school closings on the horizon, wants a recall policy for displaced teachers. CPS said it would guarantee displaced teachers interviews for openings. That’s a strong start. A resolution shouldn’t be tough.

Teacher Evaluation: CTU wants a new evaluation system to place less emphasis on student test scores. CPS has agreed to delay its implementation for one year and to make its implementation in its fifth and final year contingent on agreement with CTU. This could include reducing the percentage of a teacher’s evaluation that is based on student test scores. Again, a strong start basis for an agreement.

The next few days will be filled with fiery rhetoric, picketers and distressed parents and children. Don’t get swept up in it.

A deal is within reach.

All CTU has to do is grab it.



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