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Teachers' 'No-Confidence' Vote In Claypool A Message To Rahm: Union Boss

By Heather Cherone | May 23, 2017 3:51pm | Updated on May 23, 2017 5:31pm
 Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis prepares to take questions after her speech at the City Club of Chicago.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis prepares to take questions after her speech at the City Club of Chicago.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

DOWNTOWN — Nearly 99 percent of teachers have "no confidence" in Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool — which should send a clear message to Mayor Rahm EmanuelChicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said Tuesday.

During a lunchtime speech at the City Club of Chicago, Lewis said Claypool — and Emanuel — have failed to protect Chicago students from the "tyranny" of Gov. Bruce Rauner, who also drew Lewis' wrath.

"The no confidence vote is tangible evidence of how Claypool has failed teachers, clinicians, paraprofessionals and school staff," Lewis said.

Union officials announced the final vote tally — 98.99 percent of teachers saying they had no confidence in Claypool — at City Hall news conference. The union has roughly 24,000 members, Lewis said.

Emanuel has twice praised Claypool's tenure at CPS in recent weeks, and did so again after Lewis' speech.

"Rather than pick fights here in Chicago, it would be a lot more productive if [the teachers union] would stand with us in Springfield as we continue to fight against the governor and for fair education funding," said Adam Collins, a mayoral spokesman. "With just over one week left in the legislative session, anything else is an unnecessary distraction and can only serve to help the governor politically at the expense of our school children."

Claypool also laid the blame for the district's financial woes at Rauner's feet.

“CPS’ financial crisis is rooted in racially discriminatory state funding — to the tune of $500 million a year — and it’s shocking that Karen Lewis’ top priority is anything other than holding the governor accountable for that injustice,” Claypool said in a statement.

Five families sued the State of Illinois on behalf of Chicago Public Schools in February, claiming that the state has violated the civil rights of their children by giving Chicago schools less funding than other districts.

Illinois picks up a greater share of the bill for teacher pensions in school districts outside Chicago — where 58 percent of students are white — than for Chicago's teachers, where the district is 38 percent black, 47 percent Hispanic and 10 percent white.

In 2016, the lawsuit alleges, for every $1 the state spent on educating children outside the city, about 76 cents was spent on students in Chicago.

In her speech, Lewis said Claypool was "ill-equipped" for the position as head of CPS and that he was a "proxy" for the man who appointed him — Emanuel — who controls the Chicago Public Schools through the members he appoints to the Board of Education.

"Mayoral control is a failure," Lewis said.

Claypool has not done nearly enough to help Chicago school children coping with the effects of violence in the city, which has surged during the past two years, Lewis said.

In addition, Claypool has failed to fully fund special education services, forcing teachers to develop Individual Education Plans for students based not on their needs but the resources available at their schools, Lewis said.

District officials have also violated the spirit of the contract reached in October between the union and CPS, which calls for teacher's assistants to be hired in kindergarten through second-grade classrooms with more than 28 students, Lewis said.

At one school — which Lewis did not name — a large second-grade class was reduced in size by the immediate promotion of 10 students to third grade.

Lewis called that action a "travesty" and "tragic" for those students.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said the district was looking into Lewis' charges.

Rauner Also Criticized

Still, Lewis reserved her harshest criticism for Rauner, whom she said hates teachers for "being advocates for the poor."

Chicago should not wait for Rauner's "cold heart to thaw" but fully fund schools on its own by taxing big companies.

"This is a crisis of leadership," Lewis said.

If the mayor does replace the head of CPS, Lewis said Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson — a former teacher and principal — was "someone she could work with."

"I don't know why she would want the job," Lewis said.

Jackson has begun appearing more frequently at CPS events with Emanuel. She also helped to negotiate a new contract for the teachers union this fall.

The Sun-Times has reported that tensions between Emanuel and Claypool are running high amid the budget crisis, leading to whispers at City Hall that he could be replaced by Jackson.