Lewis: Loyalty to public schools should rival that of Cubs fans

June 19, 2013

By: Becky Vevea and Aaron Atchison

AP/File
File: Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis wants people to rally around the city’s public schools like loyal Chicago Cubs fans.

Lewis made the analogy in a speech titled “On Baseball and Budgets” that she delivered at a City Club luncheon Tuesday.  

“When the Cubs lose a game, they don’t call for Wrigley Field to close down,” Lewis said. “They don’t want the entire team dismantled. And despite some empty seats, the stadium isn’t accused of being underutilized.”

Last month, Chicago Public Schools announced it would close 50 schools officials considered “underutilized,” or in other words, did not have enough students enrolled.

“Despite game losses and near wins, the fans continue to show up,” Lewis continued. “We keep cheering for our Cubbies. We know they are winners. We believe. We don’t let the statistics drive our beliefs. But do the same for our children. Cheer them on, invest in them, love them, support their parents, support their teachers, and support their schools.”

But a large part of Lewis’s speech focused on ways the district could increase revenue—like ending corporate loopholes, a progressive tax, and re-negotiating interest rates with big banks. Lewis claimed such moves could generate as much as $600 million.

CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said re-negotiating interest rates could actually cost CPS money.

The speech Tuesday comes on the heels of mass layoffs late last week. CPS issued more than 800 pink slips (link) to employees at closing schools. But more layoffs could come as other schools across the district grapple with budget cuts at the school level. (link)

CPS has said it is facing a $1 billion deficit next year,  which includes about $400 million in increased pension payments.  But when asked about how that contributed to cuts being made at schools, Lewis blamed the tight budgets on the district’s new way of funding schools.

This year, principals are being given a set amount of money per student, rather than being allocated teaching positions and money for specific programs.

Like she has repeatedly over the last two years, Lewis again brought up the issue of race and inequality in public education, noting that the poor and minority students end up with worse learning conditions than their more affluent peers.

Lewis also took aim at corporate education reformers saying, “There’s something about these folks that use little black and brown children as stage props at one press conference, while announcing they want to fire, layoff or lock up their parents at another press conference.”

Despite her fiery rhetoric at times, Lewis repeatedly said she hoped to collaborate more with CPS and City Hall.

Becky Vevea is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her @WBEZeducation. Aaron Atchison is an intern on the WBEZ education desk.