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Chicago teachers continue legislative lobbying as Illinois General Assembly nears the end of its regular session... CTU continues campaign to remove worst sections of SB7, also supports school facilities bill

As the 97th session of the Illinois General Assembly draws to a close (adjournment is supposed to be May 31, 2011), the Chicago Teachers Union on May 23, 2011 reiterated a call to its 28,000 members asking that the union's members contact their state senators and state representatives asking for modifications to the pending "school reform" bill that has currently been passed by both houses of the legislature and which awaits the signature of Governor Pat Quinn.

Chicago billionaire Sam Zell (above) destroyed the pensions of Tribune workers following his "leveraged" purchase of the Tribune corporation six years ago, then watched as the highly indebted company slid into bankruptcy. Eventually, Zell was forced to leave as CEO of the corporation during the bankruptcy precedings, but continued as owner. In December 2010, Zell, along with six other Chicago billionaires, helped raise more than $3 million to fund a group called "Stand for Children," which supported the attacks on the Chicago Teachers Union embodied in the original "Performance Counts 2010" proposal, which eventually became SB7. When the Illinois General Assembly failed to pass legislation destroyed the Chicago Teachers Union (by outlawing Chicago teacher strikes and eliminating appeals of labor problems to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board), Zell's Tribune continued to denounce the union in editorial after editorial, while at the same time promoting the same kinds of destructions of worker pensions in other legislation that Zell himself had engineered against Tribune workers to finance his buyout of the corporation a half decade ago.The most recent e-mail stated:

"Contact your Representatives Today about Two Critical Bills that Affect Teaching and Learning.

In the final days of the session, critical legislation is working its way through Springfield and your legislators need to hear from you TODAY!

[This was followed by a hotlink that said "Find your legislator with this link and let them know"]

They should amend Senate Bill 7 to maintain Illinois Education Labor Relations Board oversight of CPS and make it clear that it is our members who have the right to authorize a strike and They should stop haphazard school closings."

The proposal to amend two sections of Senate Bill 7 asks the legislators to eliminate the section requiring that the Chicago Teachers Union, alone among Illinois teacher unions, get a vote of 75 percent of its total membership in order to authorize a strike. Another section of the legislation takes Chicago, again alone among Illinois school districts, out from under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board (IELRB).

Senate Bill 7 (SB7) which passed the Illinois Senate unanimously and the House with one "No" vote, is currently still in discussion before being sent to the governor for approval. A PDF copy of the current version of the bill (111 pages long) can be found at the Illinois General Assembly web page. The URL, for those who cannot get a hotlink, is: http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/97/SB/PDF/09700SB0007sam001.pdf

Although the lengthy legislation contains a number of changes in existing law, the two problems noted by the union leadership are in the method of revolving disputes and in the requirement that the CTU, alone among existing Illinois education worker unions, get a super majority vote in order to authorize a strike following extensive fact-finding and mediation (both of which in the bill apply to all school districts and unions in Illinois). The union has asked that these two problems be resolved before the governor is asked to sign the bill. Well-funded education advocacy groups, virtually all of which are backed by huge donations from some of the wealthiest people in the state, are trying to keep the Chicago Teachers Union in what union leaders have characterized as this "Jim Crow, separate and not equal" status. The Chicago Tribune has editorialized a number of times in support of the draconian measures against the CTU, and has even said repeatedly that the legislation doesn't go far enough (the Tribune wanted a complete ban against teacher strikes in Chicago). The Tribune's owner, billionaire Sam Zell, gave $100,000 in December to one of the groups (Stand for Children) supporting the legislation attacking the CTU.

Specifically, the union says:

"Amending Senate Bill 7: CTU staff and lobbyists are working with members of the House, Senate and the Governor’s office to amend particularly problematic parts of the bill that were not agreed upon. We are asking legislators to maintain Illinois Education Labor Relations Board oversight of CPS and ensure that the language is clear that it is our members who have the right to authorize a strike, not agency fee-payers or anyone else. Click here for details on the trailer bill supported by CTU that will include these necessary changes."

The teachers and other union members are also being asked to give support to a bill that would provide Chicago with a legislated procedure to develop facilities plans and make proposals to the public for all facilities decisions (including the controversial proposals to close, consolidate, phase out, or "turnaround" schools in Chicago). The facilities legislation has been in the works since early 2009 (when it was called the "Soto Bill" after its sponsor, House member Rep Cynthia Soto), but has been repeatedly stalled by Chicago school officials. A task force on the legislation held hearings across Chicago during the past year, but now, at the last minute, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS officials are trying to block the legislation in Springfield, according to union sources. Critics of the way Chicago school and city officials are handling this legislation, which they've already stalled for more than two years, note that Chicago and Chicago school officials want "accountability" to be a one-way street. Students, teachers, and schools (such as those targeted to closing) are supposed to be "accountable" for the most minute things, while the Chicago Board of Education, with a budget in excess of $6 billion a year, does not even have to hold public hearings when it wants to make radical changes in the schools.

The union's latest communications to its members on the facilities bill is as follows:

"Stop haphazard school closings-Support SB620: Chicago spends over a billion dollars yearly on facilities and related expenses, and yet without proper oversight, many students still face inhumane, substandard facilities. Tell them to make it right.

"On Wednesday, SB620 will be heard before the House Executive committee. Tell legislators to support a bill that will 1) create a taskforce to ensure that CPS spends money equitably when they renovate and build schools and 2) will require considerable public input, an impact study, and sufficient notice prior to any school closure or consolidation. [The union notice then refers members to a hotlink for details: Click here for details on SB620 to share with your elected officials.]"

The union continues to develop a theme that it has been emphasizing: "You are the educational experts in your districts. Be a familiar voice for your elected officials. They are counting on you to let them know what's good for the students we serve."

The 97th Session of the Illinois General Assembly is scheduled to end on May 31, 2011, at midnight. The general assembly reconvenes in the Fall, but requirements for the passage of any legislation are harsher during the "veto override" session.



Comments:

May 29, 2011 at 11:54 AM

By: Ed Hammer

SB7

Pols vs. Teachers

By Ed Hammer

I do not know why, but there seems to be a trend in our culture to blame particular groups of people for specific ills. We blame all of Islam for 9/11. We blame immigrants for high unemployment. We blame African Americans for our cities' high crime rates. We blame the uninsured for the health-care crisis. And now we are blaming teachers for failing schools.

I, personally, blame politicians for everything.

The fact of the matter is that most issues are complex. A multitude of variables are the cause for most crises. No entire race, religion, or class of people is responsible for any specific problem.

School budgets are in the red. Pensions are on the verge of bankruptcy. Student test scores are flagging.

Whose fault is that? Teachers'?

Again, I blame the politicians.

Teachers have one of the most difficult jobs there is compared to many other professions.

They are required to have the skills of a nurse, police officer, social worker, decorator, computer technician, and parent all wrapped up into one. They have to manage the behavior of 25 individuals whose brains are not physically or emotionally developed while at the same time teaching them the basics needed to survive. Their classroom may consist of a full range of learning types and behavioral disorders. And yet, somehow, out of all that, most children graduate and become successful adults. Thank the teacher.

You have to ask yourself: Is this there anybody as equally responsible for a child's success or failure?

The first thing that pops into my brain is the parents. Are the parents home? Do they speak English? Do they belong to a gang? Are they so busy with their careers that they do not have time to help with homework? Are they setting a good moral example for their offspring by paying taxes, going to church, and driving the speed limit? Do they tolerate ethnic and racial differences or do they use racial slurs and hate-mongering when gossiping about neighbors?

Any of these conditions in a student's home can result in academic failure. Many politicians lack the courage to discuss these issues publicly. After all, parents vote.

So they have made teachers the problem.

Take pensions, for example. Have the city and state governments ever borrowed against the pensions? If so, have they ever paid the pension funds back? Are the teachers' pensions paid from tax dollars or from teacher contributions? Do state and city governments make timely contributions or are they holding back? Are any elected officials who are proposing cuts to teachers' pensions likewise proposing cuts in their pensions?

The fact is that teachers contribute 9.4% of their gross salary to their pension and do not contribute to Social Security. It is the failure of states and cities to meet their pecuniary obligations to teachers' retirement funds that have resulted in the fiscal failings of pension plans.

Yet, teachers are now the scapegoats for politicians who have created the pension crisis.

* * *

There is now a bill sitting on Governor Pat Quinn's desk that gives all the power over our education systems to the administrators appointed by the politicians - the politicians who created the problem in the first place.

Getting rid of teachers who don't perform makes sense, but evaluating performance on test scores opens the door to all kinds of shenanigans, including the incentive to cheat. Another worry: a principal who wants to fire an experienced teacher and replace him or her with a less costly rookie can stack the older teacher's classroom with students who have behavior problems, language issues, and learning disabilities, thereby setting up the teacher and students for failure.

But politicians clearly want to replace experienced teachers with cheaper, inexperienced newcomers. It is even foreseeable that in the future our teacher corps will turn over every four or five years - even while we're stuck with underperforming pols seemingly forever.

How did we get here? Why so much anti-teacher sentiment now?

Start with the United States Supreme Court. Last June, the Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations both for-profit and non-profit had a First Amendment right to spend as much money on political advocacy as they wanted. Corporate-funded - and created - interest groups quickly got to work.

The Portland-based Stand for Children, for example, established a beachhead in Illinois with with $3.5 million in its coffers. This made it the third-wealthiest PAC in Illinois.

Although the PAC originated outside Illinois, most of its money here came from familiar Chicago figures such as the Crowns and the Pritzkers. In a last minute effort to avoid election reform laws that came into effect in 2011, the PAC donated more than $600,000 to Illinois politicians in late 2010.

Stand for Children supports the bill on Quinn's desk - which is also supported in part by the teachers unions. Who ever said the teachers do not understand the dire need to reform and compromise?

So what is wrong with the legislation? A last-minute amendment singling out Chicago teachers was snuck in under the nose of the Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and negatively affects the future of Chicago's children.

The bill requires 75% of CTU membership to vote Yes in order to strike. It denies the union the legal right to file unfair layoff grievances with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board. Essentially, termination of teachers will be left to the discretion of school principals. The bill also removes the union's right to negotiate the length of the school day or school year. Ultimately, all final decisions without allowing any union discussion will be made by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The state teachers unions now oppose the bill. CTU, which initially supported it, has backed off, citing the bills limits on future collective bargaining

Many veteran teachers I've spoken with over the last several days are demoralized. Why have the elected officials and much of the public forsaken these dedicated individuals? Is it smoke and mirrors to distract from where the fault really lies, the politicians?

This not only is a slap in the teachers' faces, it is a violation of their First Amendment rights. Like a PAC under the Citizens United ruling, unions have First Amendment rights too.

Most importantly, the quality of education will decline. As classroom sizes increase and teachers' salaries decrease, experienced teachers will be fired and new teachers will become difficult to come by. Students' scores will decline. Even more parents of mjeans will send their children to private school, abandoning public schools even further to the less privileged. Public schools in the city will be the repository for the children of the poor and working class.

* * *

The irony of all this is Illinois' push for educational reform is contradictory to a prior attempt for political and election reform. In January 2008, at the peak of the unfolding Blagojevich scandal, then-Lieutenant Governor Quinn formed the Illinois Reform Commission. Its mission was to make recommendations for cleaning up state government. The panel included sincere professionals with genuine interest in reform. Experts were brought in from all over the country to testify.

By the end of April 2008, the panel released a report containing recommendations of a wide range of ethics reforms including campaign financing, transparency, and better government. All this came in the form of legislative proposals presented to the General Assembly. The end result from our elected representatives was a watered-down version of changes that effectively squelched reform.

Now, the General Assembly, after lobbying by a billionaires PAC, wants to reform education, the foundation of our culture. I say let's fix the General Assembly first. Lower the limits on donations to candidates from individuals and PACs. Lower the members' part-time salaries. Take away their health-care plan. Eliminate their pension benefits. When they have done all that, then they can re-examine doing the same for teachers.

In the meantime, many questions go unanswered. How is it that Stand for Children believes it is helping our children by destroying our teachers' rights? Why did CTU president Lewis initially agree to this bill only to later realize there were anti-collective bargaining provisions? Were separate provisions for Chicago's teachers meant to turn the unions against each other? What are the unions doing to stop the enactment of the bill? Will they seek an injunction?

And most importantly: Will anybody ever want to be a teacher again?

-

Ed Hammer is a retired Illinois Secretary of State Police Captain and author of the book One Hundred Percent Guilty: How and Insider Links the Death of Six Children to the Politics of Convicted Governor George Ryan.

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