CTU chief to teachers: Get ready for long strike

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Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis (pictured last month). | Ashlee Rezin/For the Sun-Times

The Chicago Teachers Union advised its members on Monday to start saving money for a possible “protracted strike” next year, saying the union will take a test strike vote by the end of the week.

That was after Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool pushed back until after Christmas the timeline on when thousands of teachers could get pink slips if legislators and the governor fail to serve up the $480 million still lacking in CPS’ current budget.

CTU President Karen Lewis, who led her members during a seven-day strike in 2012, the first in 25 years, asked them to start saving 25 percent of their pay.

“With the uncertainty in Springfield, the continued chaos at the Board of Education and the constant threats to our classrooms, we have to be prepared,” she said. “Our families will depend on us being able to weather what could be a protracted strike.”

The CTU has planned a “practice” strike vote on Thursday as well as a contract poll in all CPS buildings in anticipation of the 75 percent vote required by state law for the union to walk out on picket lines.

Contract negotiations are still ongoing. Before teachers could strike, the union and CPS would have to undergo several legal steps including hiring a fact-finder to hear them out and make recommendations.

CPS’ current budget still depends on $480 million in aid the district is seeking from Springfield, but that does not appear to be coming any time soon. Claypool has warned, as he did again Monday morning, that without that help, CPS would have to further slash school budgets, lay off teachers and possibly borrow more money despite its junk bond status.

Claypool delayed the timeline of notifications, saying that district officials will meet with principals in December to discuss options, because specific layoff decisions will fall to them. Teachers and other staffers wouldn’t be let go until the start of second semester in early February, he said.

He renewed calls to CPS parents to join the district in lobbying legislators and Gov. Bruce Rauner, who continues to fight with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan.

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Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool talked to reporters Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. | Lauren Fitzpatrick/Sun-Times

As for parents growing frustrated with years of acute instability — including the strike, major changes to budgeting, the largest school closings in the country and a major contracting scandal — Claypool asked them to stay the course a little longer.

“I would say if Springfield helps, if Springfield steps up to the plate, we will solve the fiscal crisis this year,” he said. “We will not be going from year to year, lurching from crisis to crisis. We will be focusing on education for a change. But that’s not possible as long as Springfield continues to discriminate against Chicago’s schoolchildren.”

Claypool also asked the CTU to join the district’s lobbying efforts.

But flanked by Lewis, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told reporters: “They want us to go to Springfield for something that we don’t think is good for the schools. . . . And they said, well trust us, we’ll work out a political deal about that later. No they don’t. If they had the votes to work out a deal like that, they’d work it out now. But they don’t actually have a plan right now.

Lewis added, “They are asking parents to come help them and lobby in Springfield, but they don’t want to listen to parents when parents are asking them, don’t close our schools, don’t do this, don’t do that. They don’t listen to parents then, but now they want their help for a harebrained scheme that’s a very short-term fix. We need a structural fix.”

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