Today’s Chicago Tribune reports that once the teachers' strike ends the Chicago Public Schools will consider closing between 80 and 120 neighborhood schools on the South and West Sides. Except for Board of Education member Mahalia Hines, the Tribune cites anonymous sources and both the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS say they have no such plans.
But, according to Stacy Davis Gates, legislative and political director for the Chicago Teachers Union, “This rumor has been coursing for a while and we believe it, which is why we are pushing for a strong recall policy.” Both CPS and CTU say that a recall policy for recently laid off teachers is a sticking point in negotiations. CTU fears that school closings plus implementation of a teacher evaluation plan could mean CPS could let go of thousands of tenured teachers.
Since the union ferociously fought the closings or replacement of faculty at 17 schools in February, CTU would mount a sustained opposition to a more large-scale closure plan.
Davis Gates says the union has been on the lookout for such a large-scale policy since December when CPS applied to receive part of a $40 million grant by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant is meant to promote stronger cooperation between charter and public schools. For CPS, it could mean giving publicly-funded charters the same per-pupil funding and facilities as neighborhood schools. The 2012-13 CPS budget that the school board approved last month increases funding at 87 percent of the system’s charters compared to 30 percent of neighborhood schools, according to a WBEZ analysis.
That CPS might have a big closing plan post-strike arguably shows a larger difference between the district and union in collective bargaining. Namely, CPS would perhaps like to get a contract now and then deal with various outstanding issues.
In an interview back in June, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll told PI that the district would like to solve issues of compensation, and how it ties into teacher evaluation, with the formation of a “joint committee” after a contract has been hashed out. Emanuel also alluded to this joint committee idea as a way to work through teacher evaluation in a press conference Sunday night. Messages left today with CPS were not returned.
CTU, meanwhile, seems determined to work out as many issues as it can before getting a contract signed, including matters like persuading the district to hire more social workers and nurses. Davis Gates is cool to the joint committee idea. “What makes us think that a committee would do something differently than what negotiators are doing right now,” Gates asked.
Gates added that while both sides want to end the strike, there is arguably a silver lining since “right now we have the entire nation debating school policy."