Teachers rally to end ‘attack’

By Meghan Keyes

Chants of “When education is under attack, what do we do? Fight back!” erupted in Daley Plaza, 118 N. Clark St., on Sept. 21 as teachers, union members, students and parents joined together, hoisting signs and taking the stage to testify about the various grievances they had with the Chicago Public Schools system.

The ralliers have five specific demands: They want Mayor Richard M. Daley to give $350 million in Tax Increment Financing funds back to the schools, for CPS to end overcrowding and reduce class size, to rehire 1,000 veteran educators with the $106 million sent by Congress, to stop turnarounds and closings and to promote neighborhood stability and school safety.

The climate between the Chicago Teachers Union and CPS remains negative, according to the union, and CTU President Karen Lewis filed a lawsuit against the CPS, claiming it violated union agreements by firing tenured teachers. As of press time, the union’s case was awaiting a ruling from the Federal District Court.

“The teachers are under attack,” said Susan Fleming, a teacher at Rosario Castellanos Elementary School, 2524 S. Central Park Ave. “Tenured teachers lost their jobs without due process.”

The firing of tenured teachers and hiring of new teachers was a complaint echoed by many. A teacher who has been working at CPS for less than three years can be fired at any time, but teachers who have been working there for at least four years are considered tenured and cannot be fired without opportunity to defend themselves.

The CTU released a study on Sept. 22 of 146 schools, surveyed via e-mail. The survey revealed more than 50 percent of the responding CPS schools cut at least one tenured teacher.

“What’s going on in society is not cut off from our schools,” said Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the CTU, at the rally. “The economic recession that has produced lay-offs, that has evicted millions, that has slashed social services, that has closed retail and even stopped buses is not going to stop at the schoolhouse gate.”

According to the union, there were 1,322 teachers fired from CPS between June and August of this year. The school system received approximately $100 million from the Federal “Edujobs” Bill in August, enabling them to rehire 167 teachers.

“I think they need to follow the contract,” Fleming said. “That’s why we have one. We signed an agreement and we’ll keep our side, they should keep theirs. If they think teachers aren’t good and need to go, they should follow procedure to get rid of them.”

Alderman Robert Fioretti (2nd Ward) attended the rally in support of the union and teachers.

“Rehiring teachers and restoring programs—we need to have the best and brightest, and not teachers that are [upset] because of the cuts that have occurred,” Fioretti said. “We have the money to fund our schools and we need to do it in the right way.”

Fioretti thinks the next step for CPS is to examine its goals and provide students with educational opportunities to compete globally.

Dorothy Brown, clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County,  spoke at the rally,  emphasizing help for the teachers and financing the schools properly.

Lewis offered ideas for involvement beyond protesting.

“Work with your local school council—real democracy, local control,” Lewis said. “Teachers and professionals work with your professional problem committee, make it happen in your school and take back your curriculum because it is ours.”

Fioretti also spoke of the local school councils’ achievements as a model for the future.

“Local school councils work hard, and they are examples of how good solutions come from the bottom up … and that’s the approach we need all across the board,” Fioretti said.

The CPS had no comment on the rally or other issues.