Quick Hit Aricka Flowers Thursday March 24th, 2016, 5:02pm

Claypool, CTU Clash Over April 1 Walkout, CPS Offers Parents 'Contingency' Plan

The Chicago Teachers Union is pushing back against Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool's assertion that the planned April 1 teacher walkout is "illegal."

The teachers union's House of Delegates voted to approve the walkout Wednesday evening, solidifying plans for Chicago public school educators to hold a one-day strike next week. But Claypool called the walkout illegal at Wednesday's Chicago Board of Education meeting, hours before the union voted on the proposed action against unfair labor practices.

"In January we reached a tentative new labor contract with CTU leadership, so we believe that a final contract can be reached if both parties continue to negotiate in good faith," said Claypool. "But rather than focusing on reaching an agreement, it is disappointing to see CTU's leadership promoting this illegal strike that would take a critical day of instruction away from our students, to say nothing of encouraging teachers to break the law."

CTU spokesperson Stephanie Gadlin pushed back against Claypool's criticism, saying his attention should be focused on the issues facing the district:

Chicago Public Schools is on the verge of financial collapse. Classroom conditions are deteriorating. Instead of threatening educators who are engaging in a historic day of protest to fight for revenue to save our schools, Mr. Claypool should join them in this courageous day of action. What we are doing hasn't been done before so the CEO doesn't know how the courts will rule should he seek to use money the district doesn't have on unnecessary legal fees.

We cannot stabilize the school system, win improvements or even secure a strong contract if CPS does not have new revenue. The district is combing through school budgets looking for money in order to make the $680 million pension payment on June 30--the equivalent of trying to make a mortgage payment by looking for spare change under seat cushions.

We are shutting the schools down for a day so we can keep them open in the days to come. We expect every CTU teacher, paraprofessional and clinician to be on the picket lines at 6:30 a.m. on Friday, April 1. We will all walk out together and we will all return together.

Meanwhile, CPS officials announced a plan to team up with the city's parks and libraries to offer public school students a place to be "safe, fed and engaged" on April 1. While the school district recommends that parents keep their children home on the walkout day if they have the ability to do so, there will be more than 250 "contingency" sites for public school students to go, including parks, libraries and schools, if that is not possible. Additionally, the Chicago Transit Authority will offer students free transportation on April 1. It is unclear how much the contingency plan, which includes two meals for participating children, will cost the cash-strapped school district, which recently announced three furlough days for teachers and staff as a means to save money.

"Ensuring the well-being of our students is our highest priority. To help parents plan for April 1st, we want our school communities to know that we will be there for our students should they need us," Claypool said. "While we are disappointed by the CTU leadership's course of action, we share their belief that the Governor must fix the education funding formula that discriminates against Chicago's children and poor minority children around the state. The Governor's failure to fully fund education has pushed Chicago Public Schools and too many other Illinois schools into financial crisis.

"Looking ahead, CPS remains committed to staying at the negotiating table and working around the clock to reach a final deal that keeps our students and their teachers in the classroom and moves our district forward in a meaningful way."

Information on the exact locations of the contingency sites will be announced next week. Parents can sign up for updates on the April 1 plans and get information on how to pre-register for a contingency location here.

Image: AP Photo

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