THE LOOP — Local parent and community groups are demanding that Chicago Public Schools "come clean" on contract negotiations with teachers in three public forums the groups are organizing.
CPS recently threw open the contract by announcing it would opt out of a one-year extension with the Chicago Teachers Union, in part because it says it can't afford a 3 percent pay hike tied to the extension.
CTU lashed back earlier this week, with President Karen Lewis saying the district was "broke on purpose" to force concessions. Lewis suggested the Board of Education was using an estimated $1.1 billion budget shortfall, most of that attributable to long-overdue pension payments, to make demands such as calling for teachers to now make their own pension contributions, at the cost of an estimated 7 percent reduction in take-home pay.
CTU has filed a government complaint on unfair labor practices for bad-faith bargaining on the part of the school district.
On Friday, the group Parents 4 Teachers cited CTU's statements, and CPS' lack of comment on contract talks, in calling for three public forums before the current contract expires June 30. It is looking for assurances CPS is working to avert a teacher strike like the one that closed schools for more than a week in 2012, and it said CTU has already agreed to attend.
"The CTU has been very public about what it wants to see in the next contract. It wants smaller class sizes, more teaching and less testing and more services for students like social workers, nurses and clinicians," said Erica Clark, co-founder of Parents 4 Teachers. "But the district hasn't said a word about those issues or the other challenges facing Chicago classrooms. That wall of silence does a disservice to the public CPS is supposed to serve."
The group is organizing three forums: May 19 at Luther Memorial Church, 2500 W. Wilson Ave.; June 4 at Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, 2978 S. Wabash Ave.; and June 10 at Kelly Hall YMCA, 824 N. Hamlin Ave.
All are set for 6 p.m.
CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin confirmed the union would be represented, saying, "We believe that schools belong to the communities and these forums will give parents, students and neighbors a voice in negotiations."
Cecille Carroll, co-director of the community group Blocks Together, which joined in calling for the public forums, said the meetings were necessary because "public trust in the district is at an all-time low."
CPS recently confirmed it is under federal investigation for a $20 million no-bid contract for principal training granted to SUPES Academy. That deal was arranged by Chief Executive Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who previously worked for SUPES. The federal investigation prompted her to take a leave of absence, and she was replaced on an interim basis by Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz.
Parents 4 Teachers and Blocks Together said they had invited Ruiz and Board of Education President David Vitale to attend the forums and "come clean with the public about its negotiations over a new teachers’ contract." They said the forums would go on "with or without the district’s participation."
CPS said Friday it would not be taking part.
"The district’s top priority is to ensure our students and teachers have the resources they need to succeed in the classroom," said spokesman Bill McCaffrey. "CPS does not discuss negotiations, but we continue to have productive conversations with CTU on the next contract."
The groups, however, urged supporters to call Ruiz at 773-553-1500 and demand CPS take part.
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