Chicago Teachers Union vows to make school closings political

Union president Karen Lewis says a “voter education campaign” will add 100,000 new voters to Chicago’s rolls.

April 15, 2013

AP/File
File: Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union. On April 15, 2013, Lewis vowed to launch a “comprehensive and aggressive political action campaign” against supporters of school closures.

Angry over school a proposal that would close down an unprecedented number of schools, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis Monday vowed to launch a “comprehensive and aggressive political action campaign” with the ultimate goal of defeating Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other local elected officials supportive of school closings.

“If the mayor and his hand-picked corporate school board will not listen to us, we must find those who will,” Lewis said.

Lewis said union members would continue to oppose the closings through hearings and protests “until the board rubber stamps this plan on May 22, and on May 23 we’re going right back in the streets.”

The union says it wants to put a minimum of 100,000 new voters on Chicago’s rolls. Lewis says union organizers will go door to door in neighborhoods where schools are closing and where teachers are losing jobs “due to this administration.”

The union also plans to increase donations to its political action committee and vet potential candidates.

Lewis called the dozens of public hearings being held by the district  “most likely sham events” and said they’re “designed to provide therapy to people impacted by their decisions.”
 
The union released an analysis today — Lewis referred to it as an “autopsy” — of Guggenheim Elementary, which was closed last year.

The union says Guggenheim was neglected, with overcrowded classrooms and just two working computers in the library. Advocates say once the proposal to shut down the school was announced, the principal improperly tried to push homeless children to transfer. Once Guggenheim was closed, only 37 percent of students went to the designated CPS receiving school. Catalyst-Chicago has reported that CPS has lost track of 23 Guggenheim kids, and cannot say where they ended up.

The union says other schools live in fear of being shut down. It says the district had trouble closing four schools last year, now it’s trying to close 54.

Chicago Public Schools spokesman Dave Miranda says the district is taking a new approach this year.

“Unlike in the past, CPS will work aggressively and proactively to reach parents at all sending schools to encourage them to enroll their children in their dedicated higher-performing welcoming schools," he said. "We want to ensure that students can benefit from the additional investments that will be made in welcoming schools for the fall.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor said this is "simply not the time for politics." 

"Barbara Byrd-Bennett has proposed a plan for Chicago Public Schools, with Mayor Emanuel's support, that finally puts our children first," the spokeswoman said. 

Linda Lutton is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @WBEZeducation