Amid Contract Negotiations, CPS Teachers Gear Up for New School Year

Teachers at Chicago Public Schools are officially back in the classroom next week, roughly a week before students return.

So far, they still have no contract deal with the Board of Education, and have repeatedly threatened to walk off the job. And another controversy is brewing within their ranks.

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Tuesday afternoon, the Chicago Teachers Union gave its members an update on negotiations, holding an all-member meeting at its headquarters.

The union has called for the Board of Education to write into the contract promises it’s making to reduce class sizes and add staff counselors, nurses and librarians – among other CTU requests. But Mayor Lori Lightfoot has repeatedly said she will include those promises in current and future budgets – not the contract.

“Unfortunately, we can report that we have not seen those promises actually show up in the budget documents,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey told reporters. “What we are seeing are what looks like allocation decisions which will actually cut staffing in critical areas.”

“We believe that we are seeing budget numbers which show a reduction in critical staffing areas, like bilingual education, and social workers and other critical frontline staff, and even in special education workers.”

Last week on “Chicago Tonight,” Sharkey stressed that there are several steps before a strike could even happen (watch the full interview with Sharkey, below). But members attending the CTU meeting Tuesday said they are strike ready.

“We’re teachers, we want to teach!” said Kirstin Roberts, a preschool teacher at Bretano Elementary in Logan Square. “We want kids in front of us, we want joyful learning. But we are preparing to do whatever it takes to get the conditions those students deserve.”

“This is a fight for everything this city is undergoing, when it comes to rapid gentrification changes, the trauma our children are going with, when it comes to unemployment, these things that matter,” said Mueze Bawany, a teacher at Roberto Clemente Academy. “And these things are definitely worth striking for. I’m 100% in for it.”

While CTU blames the district for dragging its feet on negotiations, the city says the same about the union, claiming members of CTU leadership took long vacations this month, stalling negotiations. Sources say the union also hasn’t responded to a number of proposals on staffing, substitutes, teacher evaluations and other subjects.

That said – a source very familiar with negotiations says the city is still confident that they can reach a deal without a strike.

This week, the union has also been dogged by criticism from members that fellow members traveled to Venezuela in July under the CTU name (though, reportedly, not using CTU funds). Those members also blogged about their trip, and praised Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro, under whose rule the country faces a humanitarian crisis with millions fleeing the country, seeking asylum.

“What these delegates are saying is not true. It’s unfortunate because it’s unethical, unprofessional and it doesn’t represent everybody in our union. Many members are distraught about this because it reflects on us. This is not our political philosophy and not how we treat people enduring pain,” said member Rebecca Testa-Ryan whose family endured the Manuel Noriega regime in Panama in the 1980s.

Additionally, the Illinois Venezuelan Alliance, founded two years ago in response to the massive number of immigrants coming to the area, sent a letter to CTU’s Sharkey rejecting a resolution the union passed back in March – as well as the trip.

The letter also expressed concern at how the delegation got the visas to get into the country, and believes they were only shown the parts of the country that the government wants them to see in order to spread its propaganda.

Teachers named on the blog have not yet returned our requests for comment.

Sharkey says with 25,000 members, the CTU is a diverse union, and its members are proud – they represent the union in many different activities – and he has no interest in policing what everyone says.

But more than that, he says right now, members should focus on being unified while they negotiate this critical contract.

“I would say to the people for and against Venezuela: please stop, it’s not where we need to be going right now,” Sharkey said.

Negotiators are back at the bargaining table two days this week and next week. Sharkey says he is pleased that the pacing of negotiations has increased.

Follow Brandis Friedman on Twitter @BrandisFriedman

Related stories:

Fact-Finder’s Report Sheds Light on CTU Contract Negotiations With City

Lightfoot’s CPS Budget Proposes Millions for Upgrades, Improvements

CTU Threatens Teachers Strike in a Month if No Contract Completed

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