RAVENSWOOD — Chicago Public Schools started making contingency plans Thursday for a threatened teacher walkout April 1, even as the Chicago Teachers Union called on the schools' chief to "join them in this courageous day of action."
The two sides spoke at cross purposes Thursday. CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool repeated claims the one-day walkout would be "illegal" in an appearance at Amundsen High School, even as he announced "contingency sites" where parents can send their kids next Friday.
The teachers' union, however, countered by calling on Claypool to "join them in this courageous day of action."
"Chicago Public Schools is on the verge of financial collapse," said union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin. "Classroom conditions are deteriorating. Instead of threatening educators who are engaging in a historic day of protest to fight for revenue to save our schools, Mr. Claypool should join them in this courageous day of action.
"What we are doing hasn't been done before," Gadlin added, "so the CEO doesn’t know how the courts will rule should he seek to use money the district doesn't have on unnecessary legal fees" to prevent the one-day walkout.
"Ensuring the well-being of our students is our highest priority," Claypool said. "To help parents plan for April 1, we want our school communities to know that we will be there for our students should they need us."
According to Claypool, some teachers are planning to work next Friday, but "with an unknown number of staff absences on April 1, CPS cannot operate as we would on a regular school day." He said the school district is joining with the Park District and the Public Library to establish 250 "contingency sites" citywide where children can go for the day if need be.
Claypool said the full list would be released Tuesday and urged CPS parents to sign up for updates in the meantime.
Claypool insisted the walkout would be "illegal," as "unfair labor practices" refer to federal law with unions in the private sector. The union countered that "unfair labor practices," including breaches of the expired contract they continue to work under, entitled teachers to strike at will.
"We have our theory, they have theirs," union President Karen Lewis has said. "Some judge will figure that out at some point."
Yet the union warned CPS Thursday against wasting funds on legal proceedings trying to avert the walkout.
The union insisted its "day of action" was not about continuing contract talks, but about addressing state funding and the tendency of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's handpicked Board of Education to lurch from crisis to crisis.
"We cannot stabilize the school system, win improvements or even secure a strong contract if CPS does not have new revenue," Gadlin said. She added that the district is "combing through school budgets looking for money" to make a necessary $680 million pension payment on June 30, a practice she called "the equivalent of trying to make a mortgage payment by looking for spare change under seat cushions."
In a rare point of agreement, Claypool actually endorsed those goals, stating: "While we are disappointed by the CTU leadership’s course of action, we share their belief that [Gov. Bruce Rauner] must fix the education-funding formula that discriminates against Chicago’s children and poor minority children around the state. The governor's failure to fully fund education has pushed Chicago Public Schools and too many other Illinois schools into financial crisis."
Yet they differed on tactics, starting with next Friday's walkout.
“We are shutting the schools down for a day so we can keep them open in the days to come," Gadlin said. "We expect every CTU teacher, paraprofessional and clinician to be on the picket lines at 6:30 a.m. on Friday, April 1. We will all walk out together and we will all return together."
Claypool didn't accept the union's invitation to join in, saying, "CPS remains committed to staying at the negotiating table and working around the clock to reach a final deal that keeps our students and their teachers in the classroom and moves our district forward in a meaningful way."
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