Union leaders told CPS: "Let us decide how to fire teachers at 'failing' schools"

Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart on Saturday February 23 told the union’s members to attend the February 27 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education to oppose the school closings proposed by CEO Arne Duncan. For the next four days, the union did nothing to help union members get to the meeting, and Stewart herself was absent when the Chicago Board of Education voted on the largest number of school closings in Chicago history on February 27.

In a speech of less than ten minutes long at the beginning of the weekly PUSH meeting on February 23, Stewart criticized the Board of Education’s members for ignoring the hearings that took place between February 4 and February 16 on the closings. The PUSH meeting was also broadcast on TV,

Stewart was speaking to an audience of more than 200 people, most of whom had been brought to PUSH by the union. The schools represented at the PUSH meeting included Harper High School, Copernicus, Elementary School, Fulton Elementary School, Miles Davis Elementary School, and some of the schools slated for closing under proposals expected to come before the Chicago Board of Education at its monthly meeting on February 27.

Stewart and her staff apparently neglected to inform teachers and other staff from a number of schools that are also facing closing about the need to attend the PUSH event. Among those schools which had produced large turnouts in opposition to the closings were Edison, De La Cruz, Irving Park Middle School, Roque de Duprey, and Andersen elementary schools.

Two days later, Stewart hosted a press conference 10:00 a.m. Monday (February 25) at the union’s Merchandise Mart headquarters. In a press release, the union said that it would produce a report critical of the closings and be available along with community, parent, and clergy who are allied with the CTU. However, several community and parent organizations (including PURE) said they had not been contacted by Stewart about the Monday media event. No clergy were at the press conference, and most community groups told Substance they hadn’t even been invited.

At the February 25 press conference, two days before the Board of Education met and voted to reconstitute eight schools (firing their entire staffs), Stewart announced that the union had requested a 90-day delay in the Board vote. Stewart told the press that the union had plans, called “Fresh Start Schools”, that could do a better job in turning around “failing schools.”

Stewart introduced several speakers. None of them was a Chicago public school teacher, although one was a Chicago principal. One of Stewart’s chosen experts was former Toledo (Ohio) Federation of Teachers President Dal Lawrence. Lawrence told the press that the union had a responsibility to help school boards get rid of “failing” teachers. Lawrence bragged that during his time as president of one of the largest teacher union locals in Ohio (Toledo) he had helped the school board there get rid of more bad teachers than any school superintendent. He said that “about ten percent” of all teachers shouldn’t be teaching, and that the union could help remove them from the schools, as he claimed he had done in Ohio.

Marilyn Stewart and dozens of union staff members assembled for the media event cheered Lawrence’s remarks.

Two days later, Stewart was not in attendance during the Chicago Board of Education meeting at which the axe fell on 19 schools, including eight which are being reconstituted and subject to what CPS is calling “turnaround.” Stewart had also barred two of her own officers (Vice President Ted Dallas and Treasurer Linda Porter Milton) from public activities on behalf of the union, so the union was represented at the fateful February 27 Board meeting by Recording Secretary Mary McGuire. McGuire ended her remarks by repeating the union’s request for a 90-day delay in the vote on the closings. Rufus Williams responded: “I’ve given you my answer on that.” McGuire thanked Williams. A few hours later, Williams’s answer became clear when he was joined by four other Board members voting in favor of all of the closings. None of the officers of the 30,000-member Chicago Teachers Union was present at the Board of Education when the actual vote was taken at approximately 5:00 p.m. on February 27.


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