Reason #3 on Why CPS Teachers Shouldn’t Go on Strike: We Need to Work Together to Save the District

You don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

That’s what my grandmother told me when I skipped an entire week of my freshman year of high school because I was upset with my mom and dad.  Sometimes anger can cause people to lash out in ways that are ultimately far more harmful to them than to the object of their anger.  That is exactly what I was doing by cutting school.  And that is exactly what the Chicago Teachers Union is about to do if they use their right to strike to force the Chicago Public Schools into an overly generous and unsustainable teacher contract.

Let me be clear.  The Chicago Teachers Union is making demands that could bankrupt the district.  No district, no need for teachers.  It is that simple.

The Chicago Public Schools is facing some serious challenges and the only way we meet these challenges and come out on top is by working together: the district and city leadership, CPS families and community members and yes, the Chicago Teachers Union.  United is the only feasible position.

The state of Illinois still does not have an adequate and equitable system of school funding.  Sure, the Governor and Legislature came together on a stopgap measure that avoided the kind of school shutdown that the CTU is currently threatening.  And now have another Commission set up by politicians to “study” the matter.  But, this fight has been going on for decades in Illinois and we still haven’t gotten it done.  Perhaps the closest we’ve ever been was when the A+ Illinois coalition put concerted pressure on government to find a real solution.  That coalition was backed by a broad cross-section of influencers: including the school district and the Teachers Union.

We won’t be able to compel a fair and equitable school funding forum in Springfield without the district, the community, CPS families and the Chicago Teachers Union working hand-in-hand.

The district is hemorrhaging student enrollment (across district run and charter schools).  Certainly, the impact of lower birth rates and overall loss of population have contributed to this reality.  But with 14,000 fewer students this year than last, we can’t discount the stories of parents like Latoya Oby who put her daughter in a private school to escape the very turmoil and instability that a teacher strike would promote.  

The district is facing a significant financial crisis.  The Chicago Board of Education’s bond rating is on the decline.  This is due, in large part, to a pension obligation that seems to be growing at the rate of the universe.  But, the bond rating is negatively impacted by the almost constant discord between the district and the Chicago Teachers Union.  $200 million that is needed to sure up the current year’s budget (and incidentally the contract offer that is currently on the table) is contingent upon the state legislature passing pension reforms.  A strike decreases the odds of that happening.

It begs the question I asked on this blog back in June, “Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

No one party is without sins here.  There is a lot of anger in the rank and file of the CTU and among families and community leaders over the school closing of 2013.  The Chicago Board of Education would argue that the closings were necessary because of declining enrollment.  But, the pain was real.

But at that time, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the district made a promise not to close any more schools.  And they haven’t.  The district is responding to demands to ease the pressure of high stakes testing.  There is less testing in CPS and the stakes have been relaxed.  And let us not forget that the district has offered what some might say is “too good” of a deal in the current contract negations.  One that Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis called “serious” and a third party fact finder called “fair”.

The Chicago Teachers Union is on the cusp of doing critical harm to the communities, students and AND teachers they aim to serve.  If CTU destroys the district, it is bad for everyone.  It is time to settle the contract along the reasonable framework that has been proposed by the district and blessed by the CTU president and third party fact finder.

I hope that the Chicago Teachers Union can quickly learn the lesson that my grandmother taught me as a high school freshman.  “You don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.”
The union should avoid a strike and start building the kind of united front that can save the district, rather than insisting upon forming the kind of circular firing squad that will end up hurting us all.

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Chris Butler is first a husband and a dad. He has been involved across the spectrum of public engagement activities and has worked with a number of diverse constituencies in urban and suburban communities. He has also been involved in several political campaigns including his service as a youth and young adult coordinator for Barack Obama’s primary bid for U.S. Senate. Chris worked as deputy campaign manager and field director for A+ Illinois where he developed a strong, statewide field operation including over 500 organizations and 50,000 individuals around the state working to bring adequacy and equity to Illinois’ school funding system and as the director of advocacy and outreach at New Schools for Chicago, a leader in school reform in Chicago. Chris is a 2006 graduate of the Ministry Training Institute and holds a degree in civic and political engagement from Northeastern Illinois University.