Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Premature prediction, or just part of the process for Chicago public schools?

It appears I jumped the gun last week with saying there was evidence that the Chicago Public Schools had averted a strike from its teachers' union.

There was an offer being taken seriously by union leadership. But earlier this week, the union's Big Bargaining Team decided that the offer -- including dinky pay raises for teachers, a promise of no layoffs and limits on charter schools -- wasn't serious enough to take to membership.

SO THE IDEA that all the teachers will soon be gathering to approve, or reject, a contract isn't going to happen. Not anytime soon.

In fact, the rejection by the Big Bargaining Team starts the clock on a process that could end with teachers taking to picket lines and spouting off all the negative things they can dream up of saying about Rahm Emanuel.

Whom to many Chicago Teachers Union members is evil incarnate!

But the thing about that clock is that it does not run out of time until mid-May. There's no way a strike could begin before then -- no matter how negatively things get between now and then.

IN FACT, I find that time process to be intriguing. Since I've never heard of a school strike beginning at the end of the school year. It always comes at the beginning in September. The idea of delaying the beginning of the process is what puts fear into Chicago Public Schools officials.

Particularly since those first few days are the ones in which state and federal education officials use to determine the legitimacy of all school districts. Delays then have serious consequences in the level of financial aid the school districts receive from government.

A mid-may strike would merely cause an early beginning to summer vacation -- a concept that would bother the parents because they'd have to make their summer day care plans for their kids a couple of weeks early.

But an early beginning to summer break might very well make Rahm Emanuel the hero to school kids all across the city of Chicago.
EMANUEL: Back to the drawing board

NOW ON A serious note, I'm sure this rejection is going to make it harder for the public schools to ultimately reach a deal. Because the reality is the schools have financial problems and there isn't a whole lot of space for them to give and take.

This might have been the best offer they could come up with to appease the Chicago Teachers Union -- whose biggest fear is that hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs will be cut and massive layoffs of teachers will result. In fact, union officials said Tuesday they were advised of the possibility of at least 1,000 positions being cut if no contract agreement was reached.

But I couldn't help but notice those union officials who were skeptical that the Chicago Public Schools could keep all the promises that were being made.

It could be an acknowledgment that the schools' proposal was something simply too good to be true. So why get worked up over a contract offer that would never become reality.

NOW I HAVE to confess a bias in all of this. My late aunt Charlene was an educator in Chicago and a teachers' union member. I can hear her voice in my head making the union arguments, even though she was retired at the time of her death a couple of years ago.

I know how furious she'd get if I tried arguing against the teachers' union. Then again, I also realize this is a financial situation in which neither side is really going to win.

It's going to be more about maintaining each others' existence. And for those who'd just as soon see the whole process come crashing down, let's remember it is the school children who ultimately will be impacted by the results.

So here's hoping that the next three-and-a-half months can pass with the two sides somehow finding a common ground. The last thing anybody needs is city school students falling further behind their counterparts in suburban districts -- or those urban youths whose parents are able to handle tuition in the private schools.


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