Karen Lewis on WBBM 'At Issue' program... Tribune pushes CTU on corporate 'concessions' agenda and vapid corporate talking points (like getting rid of 'bad teachers') one year before contract is up

The current Chicago Teachers Union contract doesn't expire until June 30, 2012, but already in May 2011, Chicago's corporate media are beating the drum for concessions from the Chicago Teachers Union. On WBBM's "At Issue" program on Sunday, May 29, 2011, CTU President Karen Lewis held her own against the corporate questions, but from a reading of Chicago's media, those challenges are only the beginning. Discussion of increased funding for public schools is off the agenda. The only topics will be "concessions." President Karen Lewis on WBBM. Listen to President Karen Lewis on WBBM. AT ISSUE 5-29-11: Chicago Teachers Union

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis (above right) talked to reporters after speaking at the May 25, 2011 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union says it's far too early to start talking about contract concessions teachers are willing to make.

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For those who don't have the time to listen to the entire broadcast, Substance staff tried to get as much as possible in the little time we had. Below is a partial transcript. Substance would like to publish a complete transcript, but as far as we know none is as of yet available.

WBBM introduced the show by mentioning some of the challenges facing the Chicago public schools: A more than $700 million deficit... Brizard has to establish a working relationship with CTU. WBBM reporter Craig Dellemore then introduced CTU President Karen Lewis elected almost a year ago, mentioning parts Lewis's biography and that the union has called for "more transparency in the CPS budget..."

Also on the show asking questions was Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Tribune reporter from the Chicago Tribune.

The first question was about Jean-Claude Brizard's $250,000 per year salary.

Karen: Salary wise, if you can get it whatever. The fact is that he is walking into a huge and in some ways ridiculous job.

The Tribune then asked about the $720 million CPS "deficit" claims it's been promoting without every verifying.

KAREN LEWIS: "I’m worried about how they handled the budget this year. By Last February, the CTU leadership [then under Marilyn Stewart; with CPS under then CEO Ron Huberman] had information about the budget. This year, we’ve received no information... They’ve cancelled meetings. This is the status quo. There is talk about transparency and wanting to have a relationship, but then they don't do it..."

WBBM: Continuing the media narrative that accepts the CPS deficit claim at true, WBBM asked: Can you imagine any way for the district to close a $720 million budget shortfall without affecting the classroom?

KAREN LEWIS: Yes, she said, citing several examples. The union has called for the Board to end Credit default swaps and derivatives and recoup the money lost from the banks. The union is challenging the high cost of so much useless testing. The union has demanded that TIF restored to the schools. Lewis also noted that CPS last June established [an $800 million] line of credit

TRIBUNE: What’s the union willing to give?

THE TRIBUNE QUESTION PROVOKED THE FIRST ANGRY RESPONSE FROM LEWIS: She pointed out that in April 2010, the Illinois General Assembly gave CPS a pension holiday to the tune of $1.2 billion from the Chicago teachers pension fund obligations that CPS was supposed to be paying (at the rate of $400 million per year for the nest three years). "We gave $1.2 billion in pension payments. We’ve already given," Lewis said. She then returned to her request: Let’s have a budget conversation first…

WBBM. Have there not even been informal discussions?

KL: You’ve seen the same budget I’ve seen. Nothing. At this very moment in time… We had one discussion, and that was back in March and we’ve heard nothing since.

TRIBUNE: Repeating another CPS talking point, the Tribune reporter claimed that the union's four percent amount to $170 million...

KAREN LEWIS: Immediately corrected the Tribune's version of math again, pointing out that the four percent was nothing near $170 million, while the Tribune reporter tried to interject various additional dollar items that CPS has been providing to the Tribune and other corporate media to exaggerate the "deficit" and the union's impact on it...

"This is not about asking us to give concessions." Lewis continued. "Here’s the deal. Last year, they said, "Give us concessions." The fact is, every single union that has given concessions has still had their members laid off. We need to have a real discussion about our priorities in education. We shouldn’t sit around here talking about how to carve things up."

We still don’t know about state funding. I hear a lot of talk about world class education. No world class education comes on the cheap.

TRIBUNE: The Tribune then tried to claim that suburban Chicago districts made cuts and concessions last year, without saying who did what. "Last year, with a lot of suburban school districts, they were still under contract. They agreed…" The Tribune also ignores the fact that all of the suburban and downstate Illinois districts that received Educator Jobs fund money from the federal government used it to hire back teachers they had laid off, while Chicago not only refused to utilize the August 2010 dollars to hire back the 1,300 teachers it had cut, but then put aside half the money and rolled it over into the current year!

"Those unions and their managements must have better relationships," Lewis said. "CPS and CTU have not a had a decent relationship. We have been basically dictated to. They want to talk about status quo when it comes to other things... We have to take this to another step.

WBBM: You do have a new CEO now. At least one who expresses a desite to form a strong relatinship. What are your expectations about J.C. Brizard?

KL: He is a very charming man. He has a background in education. My assumption is that he at least knows what it is like to have been in a classroom. I can’t say that about the last four people who have sat behind that desk. I hope his administration will not be autocratic and will also listen to the community.

TRIBUNE: The fact that he has an education background. How does that translate?

KL: You have to ask him that questions. I’m concerned about all the vendors and all the things that go in and out. He’s not from Chicago. My concern is that some of the places we need to look first are some of the things he won’t look at.

WBBM: A salary issue, but is also part of the philosophy, the push for a longer school day.

When the question of the "Houston example" came up again (it's been a talking point for Rahm Emanuel and Ron Huberman for nearly a year), Lewis became angry. She recommended that reporters stop using Houston as an example of anything positive.

And how many more dropouts they have in Houston. Houston has a 65 percent latino population, and most of them drop out. Sitting kids for hours to do more reading and math… Ask the kids. There is a reason for that. Our cirruclum has been so narrowed. It’s driving kids over the edge. No room for art, music, PE… All these things we’d like to see… Let’s make it a rich curriculum. This regeimentation, this test prep mentality…

Another hour of test prep for 'reading' and 'math' will not help.

WBBM: Mayor Daley also said it’s also important to say what we do with those extra hours. When we asked Mayor Emanuel where you are going to get the money, he said there are other ways to compensate beside money.

KL: People have ideology that’s not based in research and reality. That’s unfortunate. There is an assumption that we are not doing enough. There is an assuption that we only work these hours from point A to point B. That’s so not true. There is also an expectation that we should be willing to donate. Because we work with children. We are not taken seriously as professionals. And therefore we are not compensated for that.

TRIBUNE: A portion of the Ed Reform bill deals with the longer school day. What happened with CTU?

KL: There was some language in the bill that was not agreed to…

TRIBUNE: Did you not know…

KL: There were conversations around the table, contstantly. The stuff that was about Chicago was left to the last minute. The language that was finally in was not what we agreed to. It was just a shock. … Drafts were going back and forth by email at 11:57. We were not there in the room. There were things that were not worked out appropriately.

TRIBUNE: If Governor Quinn signs it, what’s the ramification?

WBBM: Another question about another part of that bill: the one that makes it harder for teachers to strike. I am a union person myself, a local president of AFTRA. More words…. Would you dare take anyone out…?

KL: One problem was who the Board wanted to consider a member. They felt that all the employees who were affected by the bargaining unit have the right to vote. They would not be given the right to vote. All of the unions representatives objected to this interpretation…. Literally, we had to have a representative from Mayor Emanuel’s office at the table because CPS was balking. I said over and over again “eligible voters…” They wanted to change that.

Our members were really upset about that. If you don’t have the members behind you…

This bill is not an education reform bill, as we see it. We see this as something that’s running across this nation, this whole mentality of “You’ve got to get rid of bad teachers and this is going to change everything…”

What’s really going to change it, it a good curriculum.

WBBM: Rewarding good teachers. Will that work?

KL: What does that mean? The people around the table want to destroy seniority. The question is how do you work this? Their answer was, the principal will decide.

Seniority has to be the tie breaker. Otherwise, what we end up with is that they will want to get rid of all the highly paid teachers. We have pay differentiation based on years of service and advanced degreees. We already have a differentiated pay scale.

This whole idea of “shouldn’t we pay good teachers more?”

One of the reasons I like public education is that we don’t have differentiation between black and white teachers, between men and women…

No. That’s one of the things we don’t ever talk about. I don’t want to go back to those days.

TRIBUNE: A third of CPS schools are on probation…

KL: Why are you drawing a correlation between probation and teacher effectiveness? The only correlation is between poverty and test scores. Society is saying that education and teachers are the only thing standing in the way of better schools.

We’ve got crime issues, poverty issues, drug issues… We’ve got a whole lot of issues that we don’t control.

There are teachers at some of these schools that have fabulous test scores that aren’t that effective.

What children bring to school with them has a lot more to do with achievement.

Smaller class sizes. More resources. That makes better schools.

Stop experimenting on our children. No one else would tolerate this. Bill Gates came up with this idea: We’re going to have small schools. Five years later, it didn’t work. So he just defunded it. My concern is that we have people who are educational dilletants making decisions affecting other people’s children. We’ve had years to see what’s going on. No Child Left Behind. Etc. Saying it’s ineffective teachers….

TRIBUNE: If you could change CPS, what would you do?

KL: Elected school board.... LSC empowered... Resources where they need to go... Our priorities have been politically reversed. We don’t focus on civics and social science.

WBBM: We are definitely going to have you back soon.


June 1, 2011 at 7:39 PM

By: Mike Ombry

What it will take

Richard Trumpka has it right. We need to support those who support education and those who support labor. We need to educate parents with the truth. They care more about their kids and their kids schools than all the billionaires combined.

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