May Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates report includes election forum information

A post-meeting debate with officer candidates in the May 17 CTU election was held after the May Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates meeting. Current CTU officers and CORE candidates Jesse Sharkey and Stacey Davis Gates, and Members First candidates Therese Boyle and Victor Ochoa, spoke in a forum. Their comments follow the meeting report.

The pre-meeting Q and A started a bit late at 4:20 p.m..

-Wendy Wager objected to the fact that when she takes a religious holiday, she has to pay for the cost of a sub. She had to pay that this year even on one of the two days she was out and a sub never showed up! Pres. Jesse Sharkey agreed as every other religious group in the CPS isn’t penalized in such a way and he said that this is an item of discussion in the upcoming contract talks..

-The delegate from Twain School said that the next year’s school budget has been cut by $230,000 and they will lose one teacher position and five parent jobs that are covered by a SEIU local. The affected individuals have been trying to reach their union but have not been able to talk to anyone. The delegate asked if there is anything the CTU could do to help out. Jesse said he was aware that there are problems with that particular local in serving the needs of its membership and a recent union election has brought in a new team of officers. The most he could do is pass on the concerns about those positions to the new leadership.

-Frank MacDonald from Washington High questioned the $5 million loan at 4% the CTU took out to make ready and remodel the CTUF building at 19091 Carroll. Jesse, said that moving to the current location is cheaper in the long run than if the CTU had stayed at the Merchandise Mart, which costs us $1.8 million every year.

-Delegate Karen Soto of Waters School brought up the fact that to become a teacher in the CPS, one must have a lesson video recorded and then submit a number of papers that are then sent to the Pearson company for grading and evaluation. It is this private company that determines if you can become a teacher! Jesse said that the CPS is supposedly ending this policy at the end of the year due to the large number of complaints about it.

-An Executive Board member stressed that teachers should never respond to any survey in which they are asked to evaluate other, non-teaching personnel in the schools. This has been occurring in some schools at the behest of the administration. Jesse agreed that no teacher should participate in such a survey and that it may be a contract violation.

-A school that only has a nurse available once a week has had a clerk doing nursing work. Now that clerk has been told that she must take some nurse course(s). Jesse said she should formally oppose in writing doing anything that an actual nurse should be doing. Besides probably being a contract violation, there are liability issues if a student she “treats” has a some other reaction late on.

-A PSRP delegate complained that there are very few quality subs available when someone takes a day off. Part of the problem is that retired PSRPs are NOT allowed to sub at all, unlike teachers. Jesse said that this is a topic that will be addressed in the upcoming contract negotiations.

The pre-meeting Q and A went over time so the actual meeting started at 4:53 p.m..

I. Officers/Administrative Reports

A. Michael Brunson- Recording Secretary – Michael announced that a new cohort was being formed for those who wish to get NBCT status.

Michael also stressed the importance of getting involved with the Local School Councils. He said that the attempt by the CPS to eliminate a program was stopped by engaging parents and the community through the LSC. (He didn’t say what program, but is was probably the auto shop program at Foreman High).

Michael also said CPS’ plan to institute restorative justice was a joke and that the CTU has classes on actually making it work.

He also reminded teachers who have seniors in high school that the CTU has a a number of scholarships for children of members and they should apply for them. The students do not have to attend a public school.

Lastly, Michael asked all who could to attend a “Rally for a a Fair Contract” on Wednesday, May 22 at 5:00 p.m. at the Thompson Center.

B. Kathy Catalano - Financial report – Kathy said that there has been a change in the way the accounting for our still lingering costs associated with the Merchandise Mart location. Not being accountant, I didn’t understand much of it.

C. Maria Moreno – Financial Secretary – Maria reported that after the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, only 20 people opted out of CTU membership. On the plus side, almost 1,400 people decided to formally join the Union. D. Stacy Davis-Gates – Vice President – Stacy gave kudos to two schools who successfully fought for lower class sizes per the contract and won.

Stacy also announced that teachers at five separate charter schools were planning on going on strike this week. This is the first time ever that there has been a strike by charter school teachers with five different employers.

Stacy also hoped that contract negotiations will go smoother than expected since everything the CTU is asking for was part of the Mayor-elect Lightfoot’s campaign positions on education.

II. President Jesse Sharkey – Jesse said that feedback is important to the Union and asked that teachers respond to a poll via their smart phones regarding problems with the ASPEN system and the Kronos system.

Jesse also said that the CPS has “found” $10 million in health care savings. According to the contract, this money should be taken off the top of the CPS health care expenditures but (surprise!) the CPS hasn’t done this. The Union has filed a grievance and an Unfair Labor Practice complaint over this issue.

III. Items for Action

A. A resolution, “Lift the Ban”, passed with 2-3 “nays” in the assembly. This resolution calls for lifting the ban that currently exists on rent control by cities. The rising cost of housing is driving people out of Chicago and Illinois.

IV. Departmental/Committee Reports

A. Kathy Catalano – CTU Budget Presentation for 2019-2020. Kathy said the budget for next year is based on a “conservative” estimate of a 2.5% pay raise for CTU members and a (pleasantly) less than expected decline in the number of dues paying members. Then she took some questions from the Delegates.

Kathy said that the CTU Foundation, not the CTU, owns the Union building and we pay $1.2 million rent to the Foundation. This is less than the $1.9 million we are still paying to the Merchandise Mart. We will be paying that for another 2 and ½ years until our lease expires. To reduce the strain on our future budgets, the CTU has been in talks with the Illinois Federation of Teachers to get a low interest line of credit to help pay the Merchandise Mart rent but spread the re-payments to the IFT over 5-10 years if we need to.

Frank MacDonald from Washington High said the thought we were told that if we moved to the Carroll Street building that the CTU would never have to pay rent. Jesse responded that he never said that.

Jim Vail of Hammond school asked about the amount of money the CTU is required to “pass through” to the IFT and the AFT for membership.

Time ran out for discussion and a motion to extend debate failed. I always vote in favor of extending debate as I believe that everyone should have a chance to be heard. The actual budget will be voted on at the June meeting so there will be opportunities for more questions then.

B. Robert Bloch (CTU lawyer) – Bargaining Update. Bloch stated that the CPS had agreed to the terms of the timeline for negotiations but then tried to back out of it but the CTU held firm. The CPS finally agreed to the timeline so that if there is no contract by September, the CTU will be able to strike, after school personnel had a chance to get a check. V. New Business/Question and Answers

Katy Osgood has been pushing for open bargaining at which CTU members could go and observe the bargaining sessions. She said that the CPS already allows this for talks with the SEIU local. Katy attended one of those sessions and when the CPS representatives found out she was a CTU member they demanded she be removed from the room. However, the SEIU people insisted she stay and CPS conceded.

The meeting adjourned at 6:40 p.m..

At this point a forum/debate began between the two candidates for vice-president, Victor Ochoa (Members First caucus {MF}) and Stacy David-Gates (Caucus of Rank and File Educators {CORE}), and the two candidates for president, Therese Boyle and Jesse Sharkey. I would like to point out that normally by this point there are usually only a few dozen delegates left in the House but I estimate there were still 350-400 delegates who stayed for the forum/debate.

Thirty minutes was allocated for first the vice presidential candidates and then the presidential candidates. Each candidate was given three minutes for an opening statement. Written questions were collected from the audience. They could be addressed to either one candidate or both candidates for each office. If addressed to both candidates they each had two minutes to respond. If it were addressed to only one candidate, that person would have two minutes to respond and their opponent would have one minute for rebuttal. Cliff Kelly, a 16 year alderman and long time radio personality, was the moderator. The vice presidential candidates were up first.

Opening statement Victor Ochoa - Victor has worked for the CPS for 23 years, first as an art teacher and then as a counselor. He said “When someone tells you that you have won, you should feel it”. He said that he didn’t think that the current contract was a win.

Opening statement Stacy Davis Gates - Stacy lives in Chatham, has three kids in CPS schools, and taught history. She cited the spread of strike actions across numerous states and cities and said that these were inspired by the actions of the CTU under the leadership of CORE. She cited legislative successes, including restoration of the dedicated pension levy.

Question to Stacy – Are you doing anything about the extra hour and extra days that we have had to work since 2017? (NOTE: state law allows the CPS to set the number of hours and days worked each year). Stacy said that the finances of the CPS are better this year and hopes to get better compensation.

Victor’s rebuttal was the MF would fight to get the best salary we can.

Question to Victor – How will you change the format of the House of Delegates to make it more interactive with the delegates? Victor would reduce the length of the speakers and re-arrange the agenda to discuss more important issues first.

Stacy’s rebuttal was that for two months now the CTU has included a special delegates’ flyer in the packets with information delegates can use. Question to Victor – What would you add or change in the contract regarding testing? He said we need to go to Springfield to get a reduction. Stacy responded by saying “We have to double down on our advocacy” and the CTU has worked with parents to increase the number of students legally “opting out” of a test and has been able to eliminate the PARQ exam.

Question for both – Do you support bringing charter school teachers into the CTU? Victor said “We should not think of them as lesser people”. He opposes charter schools but not the workers. (I feel that he also implied that bringing charter school teachers into the Union indirectly gives recognition to charter schools).

Opening statement Jesse Sharkey - Jesse spoke of CORE’s vision to involve parents and communities in coalitions to pressure politicians to provide necessary resources for the schools and it has been successful in that regard.

Opening statement Therese Boyle - Therese has worked for the CPS for 35 years, the last 28 as a citywide clinician (school psychologist). She feels that the demands of clinicians were ignored in the last contract and that is why she decided to help start MF and run for president. She is concerned that a $800,000 reserve fund the CTU had is gone and is concerned over a million dollar loan the CTU made to the Political Action Committee which has not yet been repaid.

Question for both – How will you address white nationalism and climate change? (Note: there was a lot or murmuring from the audience about this question). Jesse said these are problems and we need to get more resources into the classrooms to teach these to the students. Therese agreed with Jesse and would support a CTU committee to address those issues.

Question for both – What do you admire about your opponent? Therese said that Jesse has always treated her with respect when she has asked questions. She said he is a great unionist and did a good job standing in for Karen Lewis through her illness. Jesse said he admired Theses as a strong unionist but focusing just on “bread and butter” issues is too limiting.

Question for both – How important is the fight for racial justice? Jesse said that racial divisions makes us all weaker. Therese said that MF supports racial and social justice.

Question for both – What do you think of the CPS roll out of its universal pre-k program? Therese said she is not happy with it. The enrollment process for parents is cumbersome because they cannot apply for it at their local school. Jesse agrees that enrollment should be at all local schools and that proper subs be provided as needed.

Question for Jesse – What has CORE done to support Black teachers? Jesse started out by saying that the question was “a crock”. Too many teachers, most of them Black, lost their jobs due to the massive school closings that started under Richard M. Daley. The CTU has filed two lawsuits over this and has organized parents to oppose the closing. Although the schools were closed, the resulting political pressure led Rahm to decide to not run for a third term. Therese said she would work to increase the number of Black teachers.

Question for Jesse – Can you admit that the 2012 contract weakened the value to teachers? Jesse said the CPS was able to cancel a expected 4% raise in the previous contract and that he fought the CPS when it wanted to have a 16 page contract with a longer school day and school year.

Closing statement – Therese – MF wants to assure that checks and balances in the CTU are maintained to get the Union on a strong financial footing. She said that “Members First does not mean members only”.

Closing statement - Jesse - Jesse said that CORE has a vision for the power of the CTU and again stressed the importance of outreach and alliances with parents and the community.

The forum/debate ended about 7:55 pm.


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