Huge turnout for Chicago Teachers Union LEAD dinner shows growing power of CTU, honors legislators and aldermen who supported the union and public schools
Considering it was not an election year, the turnout of nearly 1,000 teachers, politicians and their friends and families for the annual LEAD (Legislators Educators Appreciation Dinner) was considered by most as a triumph for the union and the leadership of CTU President Karen Lewis and her team. On the evening of October 28, 2011, nearly 1,000 people showed up at the Plumbers Union Hall on Washington St. in Chicago for the LEAD, cheering political leaders. The political leaders who attended included the Governor of Illinois several state senators and representatives, one U.S. Representative, and six aldermen.
The event served to remind the union teachers that political power was part of the equation for better public schools for all of the children of Chicago and decent pay, benefits and working conditions for all those who work in the schools. The event also was the stage on which the CTU unveiled its legislative priorities for the coming year, including major reforms within Chicago's public schools (lower class size; and end to the '20th Day Rule') and, for the City of Chicago, an end to mayoral control via an elected school board. The fourth of four legislative priorities for the CTU in the coming year will be "End Pension Attacks" according to the LEAD program.
The keynote speaker for the evening was Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, who praised teachers and public schools for the job everyone is doing. Quinn reminded the teachers that his interest in public schools didn't begin when he was running for governor in a tough race in 2010, but was long standing. Quinn told the group that he had been a member of the Local School Council at Chicago's Sayre elementary school for years. Several of those in attendance contrasted Quinn's commitment to public education and Chicago public schools to the outright hostility to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel not only chose to send his own children to one of the four most expensive private schools in Chicago (the University of Chicago Lab School), but has spent his entire five months in office staging publicity stunts on behalf of the city's charter schools, while routinely denigrating the city's public schools and the teachers union.
Held on a Friday, the event was characterized by hundreds of Chicago Teachers Union members wearing their Friday red, as part of the union's ongoing organizing drive against the attempts by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to break the CTU and impose a kind of company union on Chicago schools. Emanuel was conspicuously absent from the event, which came a day after the Chicago Reader exposed the fact that Chicago's supposedly Democratic mayor preferred meeting with millionaires and billionaires than with working people in Chicago. Also conspicuously absent was Illinois House leader Michael Madigan, who has been pushing union-busting legislation through the Illinois General Assembly for the past several years. Madigan, ostensibly a Democrat, had just resorted to a possibly illegal maneuver in Springfield to get passage of legislation favoring Commonwealth Edison and again Illinois consumers.
The union presented awards to several political leaders who had helped out during the previous year.
The "Great Community Advocate Award" was presented to State Senator Iris Martinez and State Rep. Cynthia Soto for their work on SB 630, which put into law the procedure that the Chicago Public Schools must now follow when they plan to close, reorganize, or "turnaround" a school. Senator Martinez accepted the award on behalf of herself and Representative Soto, who could not be present at LEAD.
The "David Peterson Award" was presented to State Rep. Monique Davis (27th District) and State Senator Esther Golar (6th District), both from Chicago. Representative Davis was the only member of the General Assembly last year to vote against the infamous SB 7, which she characterized at the time as a "union busting" law aimed at the Chicago Teachers Union. State Senator Golar sang a song about teachers to the group.
David Peterson had been CTU's man in Springfield for decades during the 1980s and early 1990s, when the union had established its greatest power at the state level. The award in his name, CTU Legislative Director Stacy Davis-Gates told LEAD, reminded everyone of the union's legacy when union members go to Springfield to lobby for what teachers and public schools need.
Two Chicago alderman were given the "Defender of Public Education Award". Alderman Robert Fioretti and Alderman Deborah Graham (29th Ward) were responsible for the legislation that will force banks to maintain security at foreclosed buildings near schools. Alderman Graham told the LEAD that the ordinance had 32 co-sponsors.
In the program for the LEAD dinner, the union unveiled its "CTU Education Policy and Legislative Program Highlights for 2011 - 2012." Here is what they say:
SMALL CLASS SIZE = EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT
Smaller class size leads to educational achievement, especially in elementary grades.
Yet a new CTU study of state records documents this fact: when it comes to crowding students into classrooms, the Chicago public school system ranks among the top offenders in Illinois.
Our own school survey found over 200 classrooms where the Chicago Board of Education violates its own policy on the maximum number of students allowed. In one school, for example, we found 43 students packed into a third grade classroom. This is unacceptable.
We will continue to advocate for these children even thought Illinois law unfairly prevents us from officially negotiating for smaller class sizes. You can help us change this law.
END THE 20TH DAY RULE
Instability, mostly at neighborhood schools, begins on the very first day of school because each year the Chicago school board waits until the 20th day of the school year to announce final teacher class assignments. The result is four weeks of school understaffing and disruption of the teaching and learning that was already underway. Instead of adequate planning, the school board uses the entire first month of the school year as a "wait and see" period. Education is in limbo while the school board decides where to put teachers. The Illinois School Code mandates that there cannot be a reduction in teachers due to decrease in the number of students at a school after the 20th day of the school year. You can help us change this law.
ELECT CHICAGO SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS
By law, Chicago Public School District 299 is the only one in Illinois with an appointed school board. The majority of Chicagoans support our call for democracy, a simple an fundamental principal, in how our school board members are chosen. Electing school board members will provide parents and citizens with more input into school decision-making. It will also help us hold the school board accountable to the public and not to politicians. We want a school board that is representative, accountable, inclusive and transparent. You can help us change this law.
OPPOSE PENSION ATTACKS
The average Chicago Teachers Pension Fund CTPF) retiree earns $42,000 per year. Of the 87,000 retired teachers in Illinois, almost one in five (17,269) receive a pension that's less than $20,000. Our retired members have spent up to 35 years educating students and count on the pension promised by the state.
We are not allowed to receive Social Security. We contribute 9% of our salary to our pension fund each payday. The Chicago Board of Education is still on a "pension holiday" and has not paid into the fund for over a decade — now our pension plan is in crisis and teachers have been blamed for the financial woes of the schools and state. Chicago corporate CEOs, many of whom will collect millions of dollar when they retire, are pushing "solutions" to take control of and reduce our pensions rather than require adequate funding for them. You can help us stop these bills.
Comments by those who attended LEAD were largely favorable.
"The LEAD dinner was an uplifting event for my husband and me," said retired teacher and Substance staff member Theresa Daniels. Terry Daniels and her husband Jim have been retired from Carver Area High School since before it became Carver Military Academy.
"As President Lewis said, we could not only talk with the politicians who have been helpful to our cause, but also have fun," Daniels continued. "And fun it was. Jim and I are talking about going every year, especially given the wonderful and most perfect location of the Substance table. (Congrats to George for that for getting our reservation in very early). The company there and everywhere in the hall was so good. Congrats to the CTU for conducting such a successful affair — with only one admonishment: Next year and always, if you say dinner is at 5:30 pm, then you must serve at 5:30 pm. This, for many reasons: The food needs to be hot; people should not be starving during the ceremony; and remember, there are diabetics there who must time their eating judiciously. I suggest that the meal be served on time with everyone eating then, and the ceremony to begin at 6:15 pm while the rest of us may still be eating...."
As usual, the local corporate news media barely covered the event, even though they were informed of it.
According to the CTU press release on line prior to the event:
CHICAGO – The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) will honor six outstanding legislators who have been on the forefront of education and labor justice issues at its annual Legislators and Educators Appreciation Dinner (LEAD), on Friday, October 28 at 5:30 p.m. The dinner will be held at Plumbers Hall, 1340 W. Washington Blvd.
Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn will offer the keynote address. State Representative Monique D. Davis (27th District) and State Representative Esther Golar (6th District) , Alderman Robert Fioretti (2nd Ward), Alderman Deborah Graham (29th Ward, State Representative Cynthia Soto (4th District) and State Senator Iris Martinez (20th District) will receive prestigious awards for their outstanding support of teachers, public education and organized labor.
During the gala, CTU will unveil its legislative platform and draw attention to issues CPS teachers and paraprofessionals are advocating for such as smaller class sizes; ending the 20th Day Rule, used to reduce the number of teaching positions based on student attendance on the 20th day of school; and, their efforts to have taxpayers elect members to serve on the Chicago Board of Education in order to have fair representation, accountability and inclusiveness.
Teachers are also geared up to stop the assault on their pensions. For example, CTU is leading an effort in Springfield to stop House Bill 3827 designed to eliminate the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund Board of Trustees (CTPF) and give the mayor of Chicago the power to appoint four members to a new, combined seven-member pension board. The legislation proposes combining the pensions of the Chicago Police, Chicago Firefighter, Chicago Municipal, Chicago Laborers, Chicago Park District, and Chicago Teachers and as a group would then elect only three trustees.