CTU, supporters protest budget cuts, layoffs


Maria Cardona

Karen Lewis, president  of CTU, spoke to the media during a rally in the Loop on Feb. 4.  

By metro editor

Days after rejecting the Board of Education’s latest contract offer, more than 3,000 members and supporters of the Chicago Teacher’s Union protested alleged “toxic swaps,” layoffs and budget cuts on Feb. 4.

According to a Feb. 2 email from CTU, the protest was sparked by Chicago Public Schools announcing the layoff of 1,000 or more educators, along with redirecting 7 percent of CTU’s pay into pensions and directing anti-poverty program funds to general expenses.

At the protest, Karen Lewis, president of CTU, said to the crowd, “We have to make a choice in this city—the banks or schools.”

According to CTU documents, the city has lost about $1.2 billion from alleged “toxic swaps,” which CTU says could more than pay for salary increases, pension pickup and enforceable class sizes for the entire 4-year contract period.

Sixteen people were arrested at the protest on charges of civil disobedience for staging a sit-in at the Bank of America at 135 S. LaSalle St., which they say participated in alleged “toxic swaps,” according to a Feb. 4 press release from CTU.

“[Mayor] Rahm [Emanuel] has money for the banks but not for our students,” said CPS teacher Sarah Chambers, who was arrested during the protest. “When it’s reached a point where teachers are occupying banks to make their voices heard, it shows that we need an elected school board.”

The protesting teachers were joined by a number of CPS students who supported their teachers in their protest.

“We should start taking a stand, and in reality we’re here for the teachers and an education quality that we all deserve,” said Evelyn Solis, a senior at Thomas Kelly High School, 4136 S. California Ave.

Solis, who participated in the protest, said her school has been cutting art and after-school programs along with laying off teachers.

In a Feb. 2 letter from CPS CEO Forrest Claypool to Lewis, Claypool said he was “disappointed” CTU had rejected the Jan. 29 proposal and that he would implement actions such as laying off teachers, giving pay raises and reducing pension payments, and using anti-poverty funds for general expenses, which he said were necessary for the financial health of the district.

According to a Feb. 1 CTU press release, the union rejected the Board of Education’s latest offer because it did not address the long-term financial crisis. It also stated that educators are hesitant to trust the board’s offer because they say it has not identified existing revenue solutions.

Matthew Mata, a senior at Walter Payton College Prep, 1034 N. Wells St. whose mother is a CPS teacher, said because of large class sizes, his mother is not able to give students the attention they need, especially because teachers not only help them with school but also their home life.

“I don’t know what CPS is thinking,” Mata said. “I feel like teachers in general in Chicago are not respected.”

Tricia Fitzgerald, a former teacher and mother of six children who attend CPS, said many schools offer bigger class sizes, less materials and frustrated teachers.

“The children who need more individualized attention are not able to get it, children get more stressed, they get less teacher time,” Fitzgerald said. “The ones who need help the most aren’t getting what they need.”

Susan Hurley, executive director for Chicago Jobs with Justice said most teachers would describe the current state of CPS as a “perpetual state of chaos.” She also called CPS’ leadership a revolving door and with many documented examples of mismanagement.

“Teachers are rightly refusing to accept cuts to the classroom and to services their students really need and deserve,” Hurley said. “Having fully and fairly funded schools should not be an option.”

She, like many at the protest, said the issues with CPS stem from the mayor and governor and she thinks both should step down from their positions.

“I would welcome either one of them resigning for their inability to manage governing in a way that supports all citizens,” Hurley said.

The news of layoffs and budget cuts makes the future of some education students unclear. Camiah McNeal, a senior education major, has considered working in Chicago after she graduates, but does not know if the teachers who are being laid off will be replaced. 

“I know this is the field that I want to go in,[and] that I enjoy working with children,” McNeal said. “Unfortunately I can’t get paid on fun—I can’t pay my bills with fun.”

Hurley said whatever CTU does, “Chicago Jobs with Justice will be standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the city’s teachers every step of the way.”

Fitzgerald said, overall, she wants what is best for the teachers and students of CPS.

“I just really hope people stand behind the teachers and understand the issues, because standing behind the teachers, they are standing behind the children of Chicago,” said Fitzgerald.