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School Board Clashes With Teachers Union Over Charters

By Ted Cox | December 18, 2012 3:44pm | Updated on December 19, 2012 6:28am
 CTU members march from CPS headquarters to 208 South LaSalle St. Tuesday to protest the Board of Education's planned authorization of five new charter schools.
CTU members march from CPS headquarters to 208 South LaSalle St. Tuesday to protest the Board of Education's planned authorization of five new charter schools.
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DNAinfo/Quinn Ford

CHICAGO — The Board of Education for the Chicago Public Schools planned to authorize five new charter schools at its regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday in the face of rising opposition from the teachers union.

According to the agenda for the meeting, the board was expected to OK Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett's recommendation to create four new charters: Chicago Collegiate, Foundations, Intrinsic School and Orange. In addition, Frazier Prep will be converted to a charter. Six other proposed charter schools, however, were expected to be denied.

In response, more than 80 Chicago Teachers Union members picketed in front of the Board of Education offices at 125 South Clark St. Tuesday evening.

The CTU has charged that opening new charters only exacerbates the district's self-proclaimed "utilization crisis," which CTU said could lead to more than 100 schools being shuttered before next fall.

Brandon Johnson, a CTU member and social studies teacher at Westinghouse College Prep, told the crowd of protestors that "enough is enough.

"These fat cats have pushed for still more expansion of charter schools that of course they love to name after themselves," Johnson said.

"At the same time, they want our schools closed because we don't have enough students. That doesn't make sense."

Johnson then said CTU members would deliver a letter to Bruce Rauner, a retired private-equity executive and outspoken advocate for charter schools.

Johnson said Mayor Rahm Emanuel will not meet with CTU members directly, but said since Rauner is close with Emanuel, protestors would go through him.

"We're going to give you a letter to send to the mayor," Johnson said.

When protestors entered the building's lobby at 208 South LaSalle St., police asked them to disperse, which they did without incident.

Charter schools do not function under the same union contract as mainstream public schools, thus drawing union opposition. But other groups joined the protest, saying charters undercut the commitment to public education.

The CTU also charged that the New School Utilization Commission assigned to look into which schools should be closed is biased in favor of charters.

The war of words between the district and CTU has only escalated since the end of the teachers' strike in September. At the last board meeting, members took offense to CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey's "threat" that "we will come after you" if the board approved school closings. Sharkey's statement, however, was in the context of pushing for an elected school board instead of one appointed by the mayor.

Earlier this month, CTU produced a video called "Stand Up to the Fat Cats" casting Mayor Rahm Emanuel as "The Rahminator" and charter-schools proponent Bruce Rauner as "Rowdy Rauner" along with other thinly veiled allusions to others. 

Following Tuesday's protest, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll issued the following statement:

"It's our obligation to provide families with as many high quality school options as possible to help their children succeed in school and life. We are expanding these options through neighborhood, IB, Charter, STEM, military, and other school types throughout the city while investing resources in neighborhood schools to better support all students and their growth."