Educators in Chicago are currently working towards getting a new contract that will truly improve our schools for our students. But this past week the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board wrote a piece telling us to “just take the deal” — basically take the money and shut up.
This is the same Editorial Board that had one of its board members write a piece in 2015 wishing for a Hurricane Katrina-type disaster here in Chicago. The article praised the disaster for giving “a great American city a rebirth.” The author, Kristen McQueary, stated “That’s why I find myself praying for a real storm. It’s why I can relate, metaphorically, to the residents of New Orleans climbing onto their rooftops and begging for help and waving their arms and lurching toward rescue helicopters.”
After the Tribune urged us to just take the deal, Chicago Public Schools shared that article on its social media. The message CPS sent its 40,000 educators is you are all a bunch of greedy educators who should just take the money we are offering you.
I’m beyond exhausted of the “greedy teacher” narrative. I’ve been teaching in CPS for 13 years. I’ve been through multiple contract negotiations, the strike of 2012, the Day of Action one day strike in the spring of 2016 and the last minute midnight contract signing in the fall of 2016.
I’ve heard the empty promises of Rahm Emanuel, which ended in devastation. I’m hearing the empty promises of Lightfoot. I’ve been lied to by 12 CPS CEOs. All of these people tell us that they know what’s best for Chicago’s kids and that we should just trust them.
What mayors and CEOs of CPS have done in my 13 years is slash school budgets, close schools, break special education laws, displace thousands of primarily black & brown experienced teachers, make parents hunger strike to open a school, unnecessarily extend school days and years and lay-off librarians, counselors, social workers.
Chicago makes students pay to take the bus to and from school. I’ve watched Chicago steal TIF money designed to go to neighborhoods and schools and put that money to things like private stadiums, the Riverwalk and hotels. I’ve seen CPS vote to give the Chicago Police Department millions of dollars to continue the school to prison pipeline while increasing class sizes and cutting school budgets.
There is and always has been money in Chicago. Money that Chicago should have been using to fully fund and improve its schools for generations.
Now CPS wants us to take the money and trust them to actually, finally help the schools. It doesn’t matter who is in charge of Chicago or CPS, the answer is no, we will never trust you until you put it in writing.
I would rather teach and be in the classroom but I’m ready to strike. I’m ready to strike until all of the following are put in writing in our contract:
- Place full-time librarians, counselors, clinicians psychologists social workers, and nurses in every school.
- Make sure all students get special education services they are entitled to by law.
- Hire special education teachers, case managers and paraprofessionals.
- Maintain real class size limits.
- Give us the freedom to plan, grade & be professionals on our teacher preps (the limited time during the day when we don’t have students in front of us).
- Establish true restorative justice programs in schools.
- Take police officers out of schools.
- Provide mental Health services for all students and staff.
In my 13 years as an educator, I’ve taught almost 2,000 students. I’ll strike for every single one of my students. I’ll strike for all my future students. I’ll strike for my two sons in CPS. It should come as no surprise that I will be voting yes to authorize my union to strike in next week’s strike vote.
So Chicago, know that the mayor and CPS have a choice to put all of our demands in writing to truly make our schools better or we will shut this city down until they do.
Click here to view this piece on The Chicago Reporter
At the time of the interview we didn’t know if we would be teaching with a new contract or striking yet the next day. My interview starts at about 1:30 of this segment.
Photo courtesy of depaulia.com Karen Lewis speaking at the April 1st 2016 Day of Action
Recently Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the statement that, “Teachers are striking out of choice, not necessity.” Mind you that this is the same tired language that he said during our last strike in 2012.
There is nothing more I would rather do than teach. But unfortunately we are left with no other options but to strike.
Unlike Rahm, we love the students of Chicago. We want them to have fully funded schools, that have counselors, librarians, nurses, working technology, classrooms that aren’t falling apart, sports, limits on class sizes and activities. We want our students to have every opportunity that Rahm’s kids get by sending them to the Lab School. Do our kids not deserve those things?
Legally teachers are only allowed to strike over pay and benefits, which allows Rahm to play the “greedy teacher” card and say things like we are “striking out of choice”. It allows some to state our salaries and imply that we already get paid enough, or to make matters worse, are overpaid.
I will be striking because I do not want my salary cut by 7%. I do not want my wife’s (also a CPS teacher) salary cut by 7%. But even though I am legally striking over salary and benefits here is a list of the many other reasons that all impact our students of why I will be striking:
- Rahm and the bad leaders in CPS do NOT send their kids to CPS. As a CPS teacher for the past ten years and also now a CPS parent, this is offensive. If CPS isn’t good enough for Rahm’s kids, then why are they okay for our kids?
- The appointed school board is made up of people scared to say “no” to Rahm. The “Handpicked-by-Rahm-School-Board” meets at 10am on a weekday, sits on their thrones and pretends to listen to people. They then go into closed meetings to talk freely and make their decisions. This is not Democracy and every one of them should be ashamed of the charade they play and the decisions they make that harm our students. Make this an elected school board, be a model of Democracy for our students.
- Student Based Budgeting has significantly reduced the amount of money that schools receive. This funding system conveniently allows Rahm and his cronies who run CPS to pass the “budget blame” and lack of funding onto the principals, who like us, are working hard to help the students.
- I’m striking for every student who has died in this city. We teachers are the ones who have to help our students and ourselves cope with the student death from violence, poverty, and the police.
- I’m striking because there are only 4 crises counselors for the nearly 400,000 students of Chicago Public Schools. When something tragic happens (which happens far too frequently) there are only 4 trained specialists to help schools deal with these tragedies.
- I’m striking because CPS keeps cutting counselors, social workers, and nurses. These people could aid and help our students deal with trauma, but many of these positions have been cut.
- I’m striking because the Mayor plans to hire 960 more police officers while firing teachers. You can’t arrest away the violence problem. Give people job and educational opportunities and invest in the neighborhoods and there will be no need to hire more police. Is it not enough that the Chicago Police Department costs taxpayers $4 million dollars a day? Or that CPD police brutality payouts have cost the taxpayers over $200 million dollars? Instead of giving our students and citizens opportunities we provide them with an increased and unwanted police presence.
- Instead of giving more educational opportunities Rahm closed 50 schools in the neighborhoods that need the most help.
- On top of closing schools Rahm closed mental health clinics. Now the largest provider of mental health services in the entire country is Cook Country Jail. Close schools, close the clinics, and watch the prison population grow…
- I’m striking because the police to continue to run a secret detention facility inHoman Square that has disappeared over 7,000 residents in Chicago. This has been going on for years, but the worst part of it is that it still operates and continues to traumatize residents and students on the West Side of our city.
- I’m striking because Rahm sat on the Laquan McDonald video for an entire year. I’m striking because of every other police involved murder of Chicago residents likeRekia Boyd, Cedric Chatman, Paul O’Neal, and every other victim of Chicago Police brutality.
- I’m striking because when residents of our city demanded a Civilian Police Accountability Council not only were they ignored, Rahm has essentially kept the same police review board that was not working before and just gave it a new name.
- Privatizing our custodial and engineering staffs, which has led to filthy, germ infested schools.
- Refusing to look for any other ideas to fund our schools and city, like the use of TIF funds that many Alderman support.
- For having the most militarized school district in the entire country at a cost to Chicago taxpayers of $17 million per year. Our students do not need JROTC programs indoctrinating them on the military model, because eventually the military model leads to humans being taught how to kill other humans.
- For Rahm saying, “25% of CPS students won’t amount to anything.”
- For firing massive amounts of teachers.
- For having 15 months to try to negotiate a contract and CPS refuses to negotiate in good faith. CPS and the Mayor have refused any of the ideas presented by the CTU to create additional funding for our schools and city.
- For having to have parents and community members go on hunger strikes to get what should be standard educational opportunities in all neighborhoods.
There are some days that I think yes, it sure would be easier to just pack up and leave. I have watched as respected colleagues and friends have lost their jobs due to CPS budget cuts.
But through all this mess, we teachers know that what we do is right for the students. Because we spend hours on end teaching, counseling, listening, and learning to and from our students. We send our own children to CPS. We know that the teachers are doing amazing things in our schools. We know what schools should look like for all our students.
So yes, legally I will be striking to save 7% of my hard earned salary, but know that morally I am striking so that enough people realize that the change we educators seek is possible. We are only a few steps away from getting an elected school board, getting rid of this mayor, being more creative with how our schools are funded, and truly working to help the kids that we dedicate our professional lives to.
Of course I would rather teach than strike. But there comes a time when to make change you must be willing to sacrifice. You had better believe that the teachers of Chicago Public Schools are willing to stand up and sacrifice in our latest attempt to make our city better.
For more things that Chicago Teachers are fighting for in this contract please click here.
To view this piece on Huffington Post please click here.
Towards the end of a powerful day of striking across this city on April 1st, Page May, leader of Assata’s Daughters, a black women’s empowerment group, came on stage at the CTU led rally at the Thompson Center and proudly said, “F*ck the Police!”
Her three words have caused a tidal wave of discussions in this city among all groups of people. Many of these discussions have been necessary and difficult. Sadly, some of these discussions have made her the target of terribly racist and violent threats.
Since the rally that Page spoke at, was in large part a CTU rally, we teachers have been forced to talk amongst ourselves, in person, on social media, and list serves about her three words, the meaning and the implications.
Many teachers have said things like, “That was not the place to make a statement like that. April 1st was about building unity to fight Rauner and Rahm and her comments created divisiveness, not unity, during what was an otherwise powerful day.” Or “We need to work with other public sector union employees, like the police in our struggle to get more funding, but now the police hate us.”
We blamed her essentially for putting a black cloud over what was “our” beautiful event.
The Black Lives Matter Movement has been successful at bringing issues of police brutality to the forefront of the American conversation over the past few years. Educators as a whole have been receptive and supportive of the movement.
But this comment has pushed us educators to discuss the movement in ways that many of us never have.
This is the apparent beauty of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
We teachers are on the front lines, advocating for our students, our schools, and communities. We consider ourselves forward thinking, social justice orientated, and anti-racist.
Studies show that the teaching profession has become more and more white, which means we (white educators) also do not know what it is like to deal with the police the way our students do, day in and day out.
I struggled with Page’s comment too at first. I thought to myself the timing wasn’t right, the event wasn’t right, maybe she wasn’t right, because surely there are many good police officers too. I have not had very many negative experiences with the police. When I call the police they come and they don’t bother me unless I am doing something that I shouldn’t be.
These three words, “F*ck the Police” have made me re-examine all of that.
I have current and former students who have shared story upon story of police abuses with me. I know that many of the situations that my students share with me, my students were not doing anything wrong and did not deserve the police encounter. But somewhere deep inside my brain, sometimes my privilege creeps. It whispers things like, “surely they must have done something or the police wouldn’t have bothered them”, but then my Chicago education (taught to me by students) overpowers that privileged thought and I hear my students saying to me, “Mr. Stieber all I did was walk down the street, while being black”.
If you live in Chicago are young and black you deal with the police or are tense because of the police daily. I only have to deal with this tension when I choose to listen to black youth.
In my mind I was trying to operate in a world where police and black youth could exist in the same space. Thanks to Page I am beginning to see differently. I know realize that if we teachers cared as much about why so many of our black students have a hatred towards the police to begin with, as we do to Page saying, “F*ck the police” at a rally, we would be much closer to stopping police brutality.
Many more discussions need to be had, but the Black Lives Matter movement (led in Chicago by BYP100, Assata’s Daughters and others) as a whole sees to it that all white people have to grapple with these issues, even when we don’t think it is appropriate or timed right.
Read this on Huffington Post:
You live in a fantasy world. Don’t you realize that by cancelling school and making teachers take an unpaid furlough day on March 25th that you short change the learning of our students? Yet now you want to criticize us for having no options left but to strike.
We teachers have tried darn near everything to get you to realize that there are many ways to get additional funding for our schools and you refuse to do them. So we are left with no choice but to strike.
We do not want to strike. We wanted to negotiate with you, which is why there are 50 teachers representing us on the big bargaining team (that is called Democracy) when we negotiate.
We teachers work with students every day. We communicate with parents constantly.
Unlike you, we are parents of children in CPS. We work in the neighborhoods that you only visit when it is time for an election photo op.
So Rahm, we will shut down Chicago on April 1st in attempt to force you and your buddy Bruce down in Springfield to hear us.
Make no doubt we would rather be teaching our students. Make no doubt that we do not want to strike, but we will do it because we know that seems to be the only option left to get you to hear us.
There are ways to fix this and avoid future strikes.
Start with finding funding for our schools.
Here are some options on how to do this.
1. Ask your buddy Rauner to stop with his austerity budget.
2. Man up and ask your bank buddies to renegotiate the toxic bank deals that have and continue to steal money from our schools, our neighborhoods, and cities. This has cost CPS over $500 million dollars.
3. Use TIF surpluses to help our neighborhoods and schools instead of just siphoning the money downtown in an attempt to beautify an already beautiful downtown. There is $350 million in unused TIF money.
4. Cancel Aramark’s contract. Clearly our schools are dirty and privatizing our custodial services cost the district money and does not keep our schools clean. This would save $260 million. Yes, we would need to hire back many custodians, but they would be hired back by the schools and it would still be less expensive.
5. Relinquish your power of Chicago Public Schools. Your last CEO cost our district $20 million and the CEO’s (I hate that title, no one in charge of schools should be called that) you appointed before as well as your current appointment continue to harm, not help our city.
6. It is time for an elected school board. The voters who have been allowed to have a say overwhelmingly demand an elected board. 90% of voters who were allowed to vote on this issue want an elected school board.
7. Stop paying the military $17 million a year to be in our schools. Our streets are violent enough, we do not need the military model of solving conflicts taught to our students.
8. Require that the Mercantile Exchange pay a transaction tax. This would create $2 billion in revenue annually.
9. Take the Chicago Police out of schools and instead train teachers on Restorative Justice practices so we can teach our students how to de-escalate situations more effectively. This would also reduce some of the violence across our city as well as save money.
10. Don’t fund DePaul (a private university) to build a basketball stadium. This would save $173 million.
11. Stop building the new Obama High School. Savings of $60 million.
12. Get Teach for America out of CPS. The majority of them are only here for two years anyway. This is not the way to build relationships with parents and students. This would save $1.5 million.
13. Stop the incessant amount of standardized testing that wastes instructional time and costs the district millions.
14. Listen to the people, if you would’ve done that you wouldn’t have closed 50 schools. This contrary to your lies actually cost and still costs the district money. Still costing CPS $3 million per year.
I am sure there are many more ways to save money. I just wrote, researched, and brainstormed this list during my lunch period. This list not only saves money by cutting costs, but it also creates revenue options. Now you don’t need to threaten to cut our paychecks by 7%. Schools can hire back all the staff that has been cut. We can fully fund our schools with teachers, counselors, security, and librarians. We can have programs and opportunities for our students.
Surely your “experts” can come up with your own or figure out ways to make these ideas work. Or better yet you can listen to the experts, us teachers, who through the Chicago Teachers Union’s research have come up with solutions.
Teachers are problem solvers and we are working to solve the issues that your policies have created. But until you listen to us we will have to Shut Down Chicago on April 1st to fight for funding.
Read this piece on Huffington Post