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CTU wants smaller classes, fewer tests, no new charters in new contract

Smaller class sizes. Fewer standardized tests. And a freeze on charter schools, school closings and school turnarounds.

The Chicago Teachers Union has long advocated for these conditions. And with less than two weeks to go before the April 7 mayoral runoff — and hours before a televised debate between incumbent Rahm Emanuel and CTU-backed challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia — it announced Thursday that it’s now seeking them in writing in its next contract.

“There are some nuts-and-bolts proposals,” but there are others “highlighting some public demands that have to do with having good schools, that have to do with supporting school-aged children,” Jesse Sharkey told reporters as about 150 teachers and activists rallied in front of the Thompson Center.

The CTU also wants every school to have a school counselor and sufficient clinicians, a nurse, a truant officer, a restorative justice coordinator, a librarian, playground instructors and dedicated teachers for art, music and gym. And it wants CPS to redirect money spent on Teach for America placements ­—college graduates trained for five weeks to teach for two-year terms — to the traditional, in-depth Grow Your Own teacher program.

Rally to launch unified community and labor education agenda for sustainable neighborhood schools | (Brian Jackson/For The Sun-Times)

Rally to launch unified community and labor education agenda for sustainable neighborhood schools | Brian Jackson/For the Sun-Times

Rallygoers waved neighborhood banners and sang custom protest songs that dinged Emanuel.

“If you are here because you are sick and tired of people with no skin in the game destabilizing neighborhoods, then make some noise,” said Jitu Brown, an activist with Journey 4 Justice, alluding to the mayor’s hand-picked school board, which voted in 2013 to shutter 50 neighborhood schools.

Anthony Cappetta, a teacher at the elite Lindblom Math and Science Academy High School in Englewood, hopes to achieve smaller class sizes.

“It’s interesting that Emanuel sends his kids to the Lab school where the class sizes are 14 to 16 kids,” he said. “If it’s good for his children, if that type of school is good enough, it’s good enough for every person in the city of Chicago.”

Cappetta said teachers are limited on what they’d be able to strike on, but that a repetition of their 2012 strike remains a possibility.

“Personally, I’d be willing to strike,” he said.

Along with CTU president Karen Lewis, who’s recovering from a brain tumor, the union’s “big bargaining team” of about 50 members met with a Board of Education team Thursday afternoon.

Negotiations began around the start of the new year with ground rules, but have now moved on to substantive issues, said CTU researcher Carol Caref. The current contract expires June 30.

“We look forward to productive conversations with CTU regarding the contract,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said. “CPS faces enormous financial challenges and a deficit of more than $1 billion, and will need help to keep these challenges from impacting the education of our students.”

Sherrie Parker at the rally | (Brian Jackson/For The Sun-Times)

Sherrie Parker at the rally | (Brian Jackson/For The Sun-Times)