CHICAGO — As teachers prepare to strike on Tuesday, much attention has been paid to contract negotiations involving confusing "step and lane" pay raises and pension pickups. Most teachers, however, say their concerns about Chicago Public Schools go far beyond that.
The union just isn't allowed to talk about it.
In 2011, Gov. Pat Quinn passed an education reform law supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel that aimed to stop Chicago teachers from striking. Aside from forcing them to get 75 percent of union members to sign off on a strike authorization vote, it barred them from striking due to class sizes, the length of the school year, staffing and other issues.
Therefore, if teachers wanted to strike to force change, pay cuts, health care and benefits were the only acceptable reasons.
The change did not stop teachers from getting overwhelming support for a strike among union members, but many say the restriction has harmed public opinion of teachers by reducing the conversation's scope to compensation exclusively.
As negotiations continue Monday, some teachers shared their personal reasons for striking, whether or not they can be cited as official reasons by the union.
On South Side Weekly, CPS teacher Ray Salazar explained why he supports the strike, acknowledging that "as a group, as a union, we have not done the best job communicating our motivation and intentions." An excerpt:
Teachers cannot do it all. Students need counselors, social workers, nurses, security staff, and librarians so their academic and social-emotional needs are met. Students also need to eat good food and walk around in clean schools.
In an effort to save money, our city and our district have cut positions outside of the classroom and contracted with companies that have not, or cannot, provide quality food and cleaning services. I want to emphasize here that it’s not the fault of the lunch staff or custodians—it’s the fault of the companies’ leaders who don’t give them the resources they need to do a better job.
Teacher and activist Dave Stieber recounted his reasons in a Huffington Post column, which include objections to student-based budgeting, limited resources for crisis counseling (only 4 counselors are on staff to serve the nearly 400,000 CPS students), and diversion of money from schools to police:
There is nothing more I would rather do than teach. But unfortunately we are left with no other options but to strike.
Unlike Rahm, we love the students of Chicago. We want them to have fully funded schools, that have counselors, librarians, nurses, working technology, classrooms that aren’t falling apart, sports, limits on class sizes and activities. We want our students to have every opportunity that Rahm’s kids get by sending them to the Lab School. Do our kids not deserve those things?
Legally teachers are only allowed to strike over pay and benefits, which allows Rahm to play the “greedy teacher” card and say things like we are “striking out of choice”. It allows some to state our salaries and imply that we already get paid enough, or to make matters worse, are overpaid.
In an open letter to DNAinfo, Oriole Park Elementary teacher and 13-year CPS veteran Erika Wozniak shared her reasons:
"Over the years, we have witnessed cut after cut after cut to our student’s education. We watch as programs are slashed and budgets are reduced and we see first hand how this affects our students and how it affects our ability to do our jobs, to teach. We have watched as schools are closed, class sizes increase, special education budgets are slashed, and wrap around services (such as social workers, counselors, psychologists, and nurses) are stripped to the bare bone for our students. We have worked in schools that have become increasingly filthy and not allowed our students to drink from the drinking fountains because of the lead in the water.
While experiencing all of this, we have also watched as money in Chicago is being spent everywhere but on our students. We have watched 49 schools being closed and in the same week $55 million dollars being given to build a stadium for a wealthy university. We see wealthy businesses and private developers being granted millions of dollars in TIFs while our schools and our students are being asked to do without.
We are unafraid to stand up, to speak out, and to fight for the future of public education in this city because we know if we do not, no one else will."
Xian Franzinger Barrett, a CPS teacher on leave whose blog post about the reasons for the last CPS teacher strike went viral in 2012, reiterated his reasons for possibly striking again Tuesday in the Progressive, citing a lack of progress following the last strike:
Despite a strike to stave off some of the most destructive proposals, the conditions in schools for our students are substantially worse than they were in 2012. Not only has funding been diverted from public neighborhood schools to privately run schools, but even in schools that have the same number of students, contractual fraud, debt mismanagement and political cronyism have left students with fewer resources. They’ve lost libraries, nurses, reasonable class sizes, extra curricular activities, and co-curricular programs. As these cuts send schools into chaos, families with the option often choose to flee the city entirely—and the cycle continues. Even key contractual items we’ve won as the result of striking have become nearly unenforceable as administrations have simply ignored the contract, as well as municipal and federal laws designed to protect students.
Other teachers took to Facebook to explain their reasons for supporting the strike:
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