WBEZ | chicago teachers union http://www.wbez.org/tags/chicago-teachers-union Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Karen Lewis not running for mayor http://www.wbez.org/news/karen-lewis-not-running-mayor-110932 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/620-lewis_1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, seen as Mayor Rahm Emanuel&#39;s most high-profile re-election challenger, won&#39;t run in 2015, a spokeswoman announced Monday.</p><p>Lewis, who often tussled with the mayor during the 2012 Chicago Public Schools teachers&#39; strike, didn&#39;t specify her reasons and a statement released on behalf of her exploratory committee made no mention of a recent illness she disclosed publicly.</p><p>&quot;Karen Lewis has decided to not pursue a mayoral bid,&quot; said a statement from committee spokeswoman Jhatayn Travis. &quot;Yet she charges us to continue fighting for strong neighborhood schools, safe communities and good jobs for everyone.&quot;</p><p>Lewis had been seen as the best shot so far to unseat Emanuel, who won his first term in 2011. For months, she had been circulating petitions and raising her profile at parades and political events, often harshly criticizing Emanuel and his policies. She even dubbed him the &quot;murder mayor&quot; because of the city&#39;s violence problem.</p><p>Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/karen-lewis-hands-over-leadership-chicago-teachers-union-110919" target="_blank">last week</a> said that Lewis has a &quot;serious illness&quot; and underwent successful surgery. Sharkey also said he had taken over Lewis&#39; tasks as president, but did not provide additional details on her illness.</p><p>Emanuel issued a statement after Lewis&#39; announcement Monday wishing her a quick recovery.</p><p>&quot;I have always respected and admired Karen&#39;s willingness to step up and be part of the conversation about our city&#39;s future,&quot; said Emanuel, a former congressman and White House chief of staff.</p><p>Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti, who announced his bid to run last month, said he was praying for Lewis&#39; health.</p><p>&quot;For Chicago&#39;s sake, I hope this is not the last we see of Karen Lewis,&quot; he said in a statement. &quot;I can understand the battle with illness, and how it can change the best thought out plans. But I also know that Karen is resilient and strong and will be back advocating for educators, students and Chicagoans in no time.&quot;</p><p>Political experts said only a handful of credible candidates would be able to mount a serious challenge at this point ahead of the Feb. 24 contest. Names floated in Chicago political circles included Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who has already said she planned to keep her current job and faces re-election, and Cook County Clerk David Orr.</p><p>Any candidate would have to be able to raise big funds and already have name recognition. Emanuel has banked more than $8 million, while campaign finance filings show Fioretti had about $325,000 as of June. Also, Emanuel&#39;s implied support from President Barack Obama as a former aide would be hard to counter in Obama&#39;s hometown.</p><p>However, political watchers said Emanuel&#39;s approval ratings have been low.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s a mixed bag,&quot; said Chicago political consultant Don Rose. &quot;Many people feel he&#39;s ripe for the picking.&quot;</p><p>The February election is nonpartisan. If no candidate receives more than half of the ballots cast, a runoff between the top two candidates will be held in April.</p></p> Mon, 13 Oct 2014 17:12:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/karen-lewis-not-running-mayor-110932 Karen Lewis hands over leadership of Chicago Teachers Union http://www.wbez.org/news/karen-lewis-hands-over-leadership-chicago-teachers-union-110919 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/620-lewis_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is suffering from an undisclosed &ldquo;serious illness&rdquo; and will step aside as head of the organization, the union&rsquo;s vice president announced Thursday.</p><p>But there&rsquo;s still no word on how that might affect a possible mayoral run against Rahm Emanuel.</p><p>At a press conference late Thursday afternoon, Vice President Jesse Sharkey announced that Lewis underwent a successful surgery on Wednesday, but declined to name Lewis&rsquo; condition, citing her family&rsquo;s privacy.</p><p>Lewis, 61, has been seriously considering a run for mayor. Sharkey said he will take over Lewis&rsquo; duties at the CTU, but wouldn&rsquo;t get into the possible political impact of Lewis&rsquo; health.</p><p>&ldquo;I understand that many people in this room and many people in the city want to know about Karen Lewis&rsquo;s health status because they care about the mayoral election in this city,&rdquo; Sharkey told reporters. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s a question that I can&rsquo;t answer.&rdquo;</p><p>Lewis was hospitalized Sunday night after experiencing discomfort, but the union and representatives with her exploratory campaign refused to say why or give any details on the status of her condition.<br /><br />On Monday, CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said in a statement that she was &ldquo;in good spirits--and still thinking of creative ways to secure the future and city our students and their families deserve.&rdquo;<br /><br />On Wednesday night, a spokeswoman for Lewis&rsquo; mayoral exploratory committee declined to comment on the details of Lewis&rsquo;condition, but said the &ldquo;exploratory process is moving forward.&rdquo;</p><p>Despite contentious relations in the past, Emanuel praised Lewis late Thursday afternoon in an emailed statement, though he steered clear of mentioning politics.</p><p>&ldquo;Karen Lewis is a passionate advocate for her beliefs and has always been willing to speak up for her view of what&#39;s best -- not only for the teachers that she represents, but also for issues critical to the future of our city,&quot; Emanuel was quoted as saying. &quot;Along with all Chicagoans, we will keep Karen and her family in our thoughts and prayers, and we hope to see her on her feet very soon.&rdquo;</p><p>Lewis has not officially announced whether she plans to challenge Emanuel in February&rsquo;s city election. But there has been widespread speculation and encouragement from some progressives for her to run.</p><p>In recent weeks, the once-fiery critic of Emanuel who led Chicago teachers on their first strike in 25 years has sought to rebrand herself as a consensus-builder, holding several community events around the city dubbed &ldquo;Conversations with Karen.&rdquo; Lewis has also started fundraising for a possible campaign, though she has conceded it will be difficult to top Emanuel&rsquo;s political machine, which has already netted him at least $8.3 million for his re-election bid.</p><p>Mayoral candidates have until Nov. 24 to file their nominating papers in order to get on the ballot for the Feb. 24 election. Emanuel already faces several declared challengers, including his vocal critic in the City Council, Ald. Bob Fioretti; Dr. Amara Enyia, an urban development consultant; former Chicago Ald. Robert Shaw; Chicago police officer Frederick Collins; and conservative activist William J. Kelly.</p><p>&quot;She is a fighter and I know that she will bounce back, stronger than ever,&quot; Fioretti said of Lewis in an emailed statement. &quot;Her voice adds to the debate in Chicago and we all get better results when there is a full and spirited dialogue.&nbsp; But right now, we should all respect Karen&rsquo;s privacy and give her the space she needs to get better.&quot;&nbsp;</p><p><em>WBEZ political reporter Alex Keefe contributed to this story.</em></p><p><o:p></o:p></p></p> Thu, 09 Oct 2014 15:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/karen-lewis-hands-over-leadership-chicago-teachers-union-110919 Chicago Teachers Union head Karen Lewis hospitalized http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-union-head-karen-lewis-hospitalized-110902 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/620-lewis.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis has been hospitalized after experiencing discomfort over the weekend.</p><p>CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin on Monday denied rumors Lewis suffered a stroke. Lewis recently underwent surgery designed to reduce her absorption of food calories.</p><p>In a statement, Gadlin wrote that Lewis&#39; privacy is being respected and she will determine &quot;whether or not another public statement is warranted.&quot;</p><p>Gadlin added Lewis is resting well, in good spirits and is &quot;thinking of creative ways to secure the future and city our students and their families deserve.&quot;</p><p>Lewis, who tangled with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a 2012 teacher strike, is circulating petitions and raising money for a challenge of the mayor next year. Lewis hasn&#39;t yet announced whether she&#39;ll run.</p></p> Mon, 06 Oct 2014 17:12:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-union-head-karen-lewis-hospitalized-110902 More than a thousand teachers and other staff laid off in Chicago http://www.wbez.org/news/more-thousand-teachers-and-other-staff-laid-chicago-110423 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/board of ed_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Chicago Public Schools officials told 550 teachers and 600 more school staff Thursday that they&rsquo;re out of a job.</p><p dir="ltr">The number of dreaded phone calls being made by principals is based on how many kids CPS officials project will show up on the first day next fall.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The staffing changes are driven most directly by declining student enrollment,&rdquo; CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a conference call with reporters.</p><p dir="ltr">The number is significantly smaller than last year&rsquo;s nearly 3,000 layoffs, which were due mostly to the Board of Education&rsquo;s decision to close 50 schools.</p><p dir="ltr">More than <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-issues-pink-slips-over-800-employees-107713">800 teachers were laid off last June</a>, another <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/education/cps-announces-2100-layoffs-108109">2,100 were let go in July</a> and nearly 100 were <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/economy/cps-issues-nearly-100-pink-slips-109078">released after the 20th day of school enrollment count</a> was taken in the fall.</p><p dir="ltr">CPS&rsquo;s Chief Talent Officer Alicia Winckler said, typically, about 60 percent of the staff let go over the summer find new jobs at other schools in the system.</p><p dir="ltr">Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the Chicago Teachers Union, said it&rsquo;s still too many layoffs in a system already starved for resources.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It sort of like, hey, we cut the most we&rsquo;ve ever cut in the last two years and we cut a little less than that this year, so therefore, it&rsquo;s not so bad, doesn&rsquo;t seem reasonable, or accurate, or considerate to the families that are going to suffer a further reduction of the essentials that their children need and deserve,&rdquo; Potter said.</p><p dir="ltr">CPS officials say they have made adjustments at schools where enrollment dropped and core programs are in jeopardy.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve made every single effort, whereever there was a decline, to make sure that the core academic program, as well as the enrichment programs could continue for next year,&rdquo; Byrd-Bennett said. &ldquo;But it is difficult for schools that have sustained substantial enrollment decreases to avoid staff impact. I mean, you can&rsquo;t get around that.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Last year, schools that lost enrollment were held harmless--meaning they could keep money budgeted to them even if the number of students who enrolled came in under what was projected. That will not continue this year.</p><p dir="ltr">District officials have said the complete fiscal year 2015 budget is set to be released in early July.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Becky Vevea is a producer for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 26 Jun 2014 18:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/more-thousand-teachers-and-other-staff-laid-chicago-110423 Chicago Teachers Union votes to oppose Common Core http://www.wbez.org/news/education/chicago-teachers-union-votes-oppose-common-core-110152 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/flickr bill selak.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>Updated with additional information at 5:30pm, 5/8/14</em></p><p>In a vote that seemed to take <a href="http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2014/05/chicago_union_passes_resolutio.html" target="_blank">education observers</a>, school district officials, and even many teachers by surprise, delegates to the Chicago Teachers Union passed <a href="http://www.ctunet.com/media/press-releases/chicago-teachers-union-joins-opposition-to-common-core" target="_blank">a resolution </a>Wednesday evening saying the union formally opposes the <a href="http://www.corestandards.org/" target="_blank">Common Core State Standards</a>, which are being implemented in schools across Chicago, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/new-math-and-reading-standards-trickle-chicago-area-classrooms-102014" target="_blank">Illinois </a>and some 44 other states.&nbsp;</p><p>In a statement released to the media, the union said the resolution &ldquo;enjoins the city&rsquo;s educators to growing national opposition to the Common Core State Standards, saying the assessments disrupt student learning and consume tremendous amounts of time and resources for test preparation and administration.&rdquo;</p><p>Teacher Michelle Gunderson, who heads the union&#39;s education committee, says the CTU has &quot;philosophical&quot; issues with the Common Core.</p><p>&quot;Those who wrote the Common Core standards believe the purpose of education is to prepare children to be college and career ready. Now that in and of itself is not a bad thing. We want people to have jobs, we want people to be productive in their lives. But we don&#39;t believe that&#39;s the sole purpose of education. We want our students to become critical thinkers and people who can lead good and purpose-filled lives,&quot; Gunderson said. &quot;We believe our students are more than just cogs in the wheel of the machinery of our workforce.&quot;</p><p>Gunderson also said the standards involve &quot;a misuse and over-abuse of testing.&quot;</p><p>The resolution says the union will lobby the Illinois State Board of Education to abandon the Common Core, and &ldquo;will organize other (union) members and affiliates to increase opposition to the Common Core State Standards.&rdquo;</p><p>The union&rsquo;s House of Delegates is made up of teacher representatives from every district school in the city.</p><p>The CTU resolution also declares that:<br /><br />&bull; &ldquo;instructional and curricular decisions should be in the hands of classroom professionals who understand the context and interests of their students&rdquo; and &ldquo;the education of children should be grounded in developmentally appropriate practice.&rdquo;<br /><br />&bull; Common Core standards were developed by &ldquo;non-practitioners&rdquo; including &ldquo;test and curriculum publishers&rdquo; and &ldquo;education reform foundations, such as the Gates and Broad Foundations.&rdquo; It says that &ldquo;as a result the [standards] better reflect the interests and priorities of corporate education reformers than the best interests and priorities of teachers and students.&rdquo;<br /><br />&bull; &ldquo;the assessment practices that accompany Common Core State Standards &ndash; including the political manipulation of test scores &ndash; are used as justification to label and close schools, fail students, and evaluate educators.&rdquo;</p><p>Illinois quietly adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010, with little opposition. But the standards have become a political football in the last year, and have faced opposition from both the left and the right. Indiana <a href="http://http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/us/indiana-common-core-replaced-with-state-standards.html" target="_blank">dumped </a>the Common Core standards last month.</p><p>The Chicago Teachers Union vote represents a blow to the standards, which are just getting off the ground in many schools, and raises questions about their viability.</p><p>President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan have argued that the new standards raise the bar on what American students need to know, and create uniform standards across states. Duncan has called the standards &ldquo;a sea-change in education. Not only do they set the bar high, they give teachers the space and opportunity to go deep, emphasizing problem-solving, analysis, and critical thinking, as well as creativity and teamwork. They give teachers room to innovate.&rdquo;</p><p>The standards themselves are simply <a href="http://www.corestandards.org/read-the-standards/" target="_blank">a list of what students should know and be able to do in reading and math, grade by grade</a>. They replace the <a href="http://www.isbe.state.il.us/ILS/" target="_blank">Illinois Learning Standards</a>, which guided teaching and curriculum in the state from 1997 to 2010. The new standards are being billed as more rigorous. They push students to read more complex texts and expand their academic vocabulary. In math, the goal is to move away from a &ldquo;mile-wide, inch-deep&rdquo; approach&mdash;in which students cover many topics in little depth&mdash;in favor of deeper understanding of key math concepts.</p><p>The union&#39;s vote came the same day that the &quot;nation&#39;s report card,&quot; or the National Association of Educational Progress, released new results showing <a href="http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2014/05/no_change_in_12th_grade_perfor.html" target="_blank">test scores for American 12th graders have stagnated in math and reading</a> over the past four years. On that test, just 26 percent of high school seniors are considered proficient in math; 37 percent scored &quot;proficient&quot; in reading.</p><p>The resolution was not on the House of Delegates&rsquo; monthly <a href="http://www.ctunet.com/delegates/text/House-of-Delegates-Agenda-4-2-2014.pdf." target="_blank">agenda. </a>Reporters are typically not allowed inside House of Delegates meetings.</p><p>The union&rsquo;s vote may prove unpopular with rank-and-file teachers. Polls have shown that teachers generally <a href="http://www.edutopia.org/blog/recent-polls-common-core-teachers-in-favor-anne-obrien" target="_blank">like </a>the Common Core standards. Chicago Public Schools officials gave WBEZ the results of a survey it conducted in February (attached below). It emailed 18,000 teachers; just over 40 percent responded. Of those, 82 percent agreed or strongly agreed that the Common Core standards are more rigorous that previous standards; 69 percent said they believed the new standards would lead to improved learning for the majority of their students.</p><p>Even the Chicago Teachers Union&rsquo;s parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, has been supportive of the Common Core standards.</p><p>&quot;Absolutely our parent union pushed the Common Core. I don&#39;t believe when that push happened we realized the harm that it was going to do. I also don&#39;t think we realized how difficult and unfair the testing was going to be,&quot; Gunderson said.</p><p>In other states, teachers and their unions have complained about the implementation of the standards, and their timing. Many states are adopting the new standards just as test scores are being used to evaluate teachers. Scores have dropped precipitously in states, including Illinois, where some or all of the state standardized test questions are aligned to the Common Core standards.</p><p>Chicago Public Schools has spent millions shifting to the new standards; last year the district issued bonds to buy $40 million in textbooks it said were aligned to the Common Core. The state piloted new tests this spring, and will roll out entirely new Common Core exam next spring, replacing the ISAT.</p><p>The Chicago teachers&rsquo; vote puts the union, controlled by political progressives, in strange company. Take conservative radio host Glenn Beck for instance.&nbsp; &ldquo;Besides being dumber, our kids are going to be indoctrinated with extreme leftist ideology,&rdquo; Beck has <a href="http://www.glennbeck.com/2013/03/14/exposing-common-core-kids-are-being-indoctrinated-with-extreme-leftist-ideology/" target="_blank">warned</a>. He has called the Common Core an &ldquo;<a href="http://www.glennbeck.com/2013/04/08/the-whole-story-on-common-core/" target="_blank">insidious menace</a> to our children and to our families.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;This is top-down education from the federal government, dictating to local schools what they must teach and how they must teach it,&rdquo; Beck says. &ldquo;Local control is out the window with Common Core.&rdquo;</p><p>In a statement oddly out of sync with the union&rsquo;s typical political thinking, CTU president Karen Lewis said she agrees with &ldquo;educators and parents from across the country, the Common Core mandate represents an overreach of federal power into personal privacy as well as into state educational autonomy.&rdquo;</p><p>Gunderson agreed it was an unusual argument for the union to make.</p><p>&quot;It is odd that we have a convergent interest with libertarians right now. We do not align with them but we know that there should be local and professional, independent control of what happens inside our classrooms.&quot;</p><p>Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education, <a href="http://www.suntimes.com/news/27301978-418/chicago-teachers-union-votes-to-oppose-common-core-standards.html#.U2skwFfN6M4" target="_blank">told the <em>Sun-Times</em></a>, &ldquo;these are really standards that not only ensure that students understand the concepts but can apply them to everyday life and to their careers and in the workforce.&quot; Fergus also told the newspaper, &ldquo;Anyone who reads the standards knows they really raise the bar for student learning.&rdquo;</p><p>Freeda Pirillis, a first-grade teacher at Agassiz Elementary, said she was shocked to hear that union delegates had voted to oppose the Common Core. She&#39;s been part of a union effort to develop exemplary Common Core lessons. Most of those lessons are being field tested this year, including one she came up with to teach primary-grade students to read informational texts.</p><p>&quot;As a whole class we read lots and lots of books about frogs. I was modeling for my students how to pick apart a text, how to do research.&quot;&nbsp; At the same time, her students investigated an animal of their choice and made their own books.</p><p>&quot;They loved it,&quot; says Pirillis. &quot;I think for the first time they called themselves &#39;researchers&#39; and said, &#39;I love doing research!&#39;&quot; Pirillis says with the proper support, even six- and seven-year-olds can make progress toward standards, which she calls &quot;end goals.&quot; She says expecting mastery of the standards is where they may fall short.</p><p><em>Patrick Smith contributed to this story.</em></p><p><em>Linda Lutton is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her on twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 08 May 2014 05:07:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/education/chicago-teachers-union-votes-oppose-common-core-110152 Chicago Teachers Union: New taxes to fix pensions--but not higher property taxes http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-union-new-taxes-fix-pensions-not-higher-property-taxes-110120 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/karen lewis.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The Chicago Teachers Union is rolling out a plan they say will help solve the teachers pension crisis. CTU leaders say their proposals would raise much-needed money for the cash-strapped retirement fund that covers the city&#39;s educators. The fund is just under 50 percent funded.</p><p>Speaking to WBEZ Thursday, CTU head Karen Lewis said cutting benefits for retired schoolteachers is &quot;unconscionable,&quot; and that cannot be the answer to pension woes. Instead, she said, the union is suggesting ways to raise more revenue. A Chicago Public Schools spokesman called those ideas &quot;not a responsible solution.&quot; &nbsp;</p><p>CTU wants the city and state to adopt three proposals that it says could bring in billions of dollars that could be devoted toward retirement accounts:</p><ul><li>A so-called<strong> &ldquo;LaSalle Street Tax&rdquo;</strong> would impose new taxes on financial transactions at the CME Group and the Chicago Board Options Exchange. The Chicago Teachers Union wants a dollar tax on the trading of agriculture futures and two dollars on other derivatives. In addition to raising money, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said the tax could help curb high-frequency trading, which has come under fire lately. &ldquo;Derivative trading is a problem at its current level,&rdquo; Sharkey said. &ldquo;These are trades that don&rsquo;t produce value. These are not long-term investments of the kind your grandmother might have in her stock portfolio.&rdquo; Sharkey estimates the new tax could bring in $10-$12 billion a year.</li><li>A <strong>commuter tax</strong> on those who work in Chicago but live outside the city. Sharkey suggested the tax could be administered through the payrolls of companies in Chicago with employees who live outside the city. Sharkey said an alternative way to implement the tax would be as a regional income tax surcharge affecting cities surrounding Chicago. He said the cash generated from this plan could be shared between Chicago and the communities affected. Sharkey did not have an estimate for how much money this tax could generate.</li><li>A delay on the expiration of some <strong>tax increment financing (TIF) districts</strong>. TIF districts are special zones of the city that divert tax money into economic development projects. Critics, including those in the Chicago Teachers Union, have ridiculed the mayor&rsquo;s use of TIF districts, saying they amount to personal slush funds. &ldquo;You could take a lot of bad debt off the books by making a bond that would put the school system in better shape financially by using TIF money that would actually help serve the intended purposes of the taxation authority the schools have,&rdquo; Sharkey said. The teachers union estimates more than a billion dollars in bonds could be generated from this idea</li></ul><p>The Chicago Teachers Union said Chicago should inject $5 billion into the pension fund immediately by floating municipal or pension obligation bonds. The new &quot;LaSalle Street&quot; tax, commuter tax, and TIF revenues would then go to pay off those bonds. The refinancing scheme would save $3 billion by 2059, said a consultant for the union. Sharkey says the money from the TIF districts could be used to pay off bonds, which would be used to pay down the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund&rsquo;s $9 billion in unfunded liabilities.The union also opposed any more property tax increases to help fund the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund.</p><p>Last year, Illinois lawmakers approved legislation that would cut teacher pension benefits as a way to help reduce the state&rsquo;s $100 billion pension obligation. The legislation is the subject of a lawsuit filed by unions representing state workers.</p><p>Now, lawmakers have turned their attention toward Chicago city workers. Last month, they passed a bill changing the pension benefits of city municipal and laborers. That legislation still needs the approval of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who hasn&rsquo;t said whether he&rsquo;ll sign the bill or not.</p><p>Lewis said she&rsquo;d oppose a similar pension plan that would affect teachers, if one were to be proposed.</p><p>&ldquo;If we&rsquo;re talking about benefit changes without some sort of revenue, then we are just basically cutting our own throats and we will not do that at this moment,&rdquo; Lewis said.</p><p>Gov. Quinn&rsquo;s hesitance to sign the legislation affecting the retirements of city laborers and municipal workers comes in part from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has said he&rsquo;d pay for those pension bills by increasing property taxes in the city.</p><p>Lewis made a point to say the teachers pension fund&rsquo;s financial problems stem from the Chicago Board of Education&rsquo;s refusal to put money into the system for years, not from exorbitant benefits for teachers. She said she&rsquo;s not convinced raising retirement ages, increasing employee contributions to the retirement fund or reducing cost of living adjustments would fix the hole in the pension fund.</p><p>&ldquo;We are concerned that they&rsquo;re not done,&rdquo; Lewis said. &ldquo;If we continue to give, give, give and make huge concessions, when does it all end? Til when we have no pensions?&rdquo;</p><p>Meantime, a Chicago Public Schools spokesman dismissed the union&#39;s proposals.</p><p>&quot;We&#39;re glad that CTU is putting forth ideas on how to solve our pension crisis, but borrowing $5 billion and raising taxes by a record amount to prop up the pension fund is not a responsible solution,&quot; said CPS spokesman Joel Hood. &quot;Any conversation about pension reform must start with legislative action in Springfield, moving toward reforms similar to those which now apply to 80 percent of teachers in Illinois.&quot; &nbsp;</p><p><em>WBEZ&#39;s Linda Lutton and Alex Keefe contributed to this story.</em></p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-4a3f3ef8-b99a-c33a-1cd4-5c280d4472d9"><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Linda Lutton covers education for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/wbezeducation">@wbezeducation</a>.</em></p><p><em>Alex Keefe covers politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/akeefe">@akeefe</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 01 May 2014 16:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-union-new-taxes-fix-pensions-not-higher-property-taxes-110120 Chicago teachers become students in Illinois politics http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-become-students-illinois-politics-110082 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/CTPF.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago teachers have been getting lessons in Illinois politics in recent weeks.</p><p>While state lawmakers have been away from Springfield for a short break, teachers in the city have been turning the tables. They&rsquo;ve been getting a lesson in history, civics and, separate from civics, politics.</p><p>A group of current and retired teachers sat for a three-hour tutorial on how their pension is funded, why it&#39;s now so underfunded and what they can do about it.</p><p>Lesson number one: start calling state lawmakers. After they figured out who the leaders in Springfield even are, Bukola Bello, the lobbyist in Springfield for the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, told the teachers which politicians they should be calling.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s an election year. Everyone gets that,&rdquo; Bello said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s an election year and because you have certain pressures from the mayor, certain individuals need more education than others. Wink wink.&rdquo;</p><p>The Chicago Teachers Pension Fund is separate from the Chicago Teachers Union, although most union members get their retirement through it. And the pension fund is separate from the government, even though the public officials are the ones cutting the checks. That means the pension fund is stuck in the middle between the two sides that have been battling with each other about cutting retirement benefits.</p><p>During the training session, Bello kept reminding her students, the teachers, of this lesson in politics.</p><p>&ldquo;Legislators are our friends. Why are legislators our friends? Because ultimately we need something from them. We need their support. We need a vote. We need them to protect your pensions,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said Chicago teachers pensions are coming up on his lesson plan so the city&rsquo;s finances can be stabilized.</p><p>But Kevin Huber, who heads the pension fund, says something else should happen first. He&rsquo;s advocating for setting aside a tax levy so taxes go straight toward teacher&rsquo;s pensions and not to the board of education, which distributes the cash. He also said the Chicago Board of Education should contribute to the pension fund monthly, not annually.</p><p>Huber said he&rsquo;s training teachers how to talk to their lawmakers because they mean more to representatives than he does.<br />&ldquo;When we get the actual voters, they&rsquo;re more receptive,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Again, I can get meetings with all these people and I do, but they care about the vote.&rdquo;</p><p>Last year, the governor and state lawmakers approved changes to state employees&rsquo; retirement benefits to save the government money, including suburban and downstate teachers. Unions representing those workers have sued over the plan, saying it hurts employees so much, it&rsquo;s unconstitutional. The lawsuit is still in court.</p><p>Dick Ingram, who runs the Teachers Retirement System for those teachers, said while those bills were being negotiated, he had to stay out of the back-and-forth between the unions and the lawmakers and just make sure money was still coming into the system.</p><p>&ldquo;We were gonna go broke unless there were changes made,&rdquo; Ingram said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re not in the business of suggesting what those changes might be, but we can certainly help explain what the impact of proposed legislation would be.&rdquo;</p><p>Meantime, Debra McGhee, who sat through the three-hour training program at the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund and is retired from Bouchet International Academy in Chicago&rsquo;s South Shore neighborhood, was ready to tell her story to her representative.</p><p>&ldquo;We worked for this. This is ours and now you&rsquo;re talking about taking it away. We contributed (to) this. We didn&rsquo;t miss a payment,&rdquo; McGhee said. &ldquo;But you guys skipped out on where you&rsquo;re supposed to be. So now we&rsquo;re worried and we have to do something to try to put this back intact.&rdquo;</p><p>McGhee said she&rsquo;s nervous she&rsquo;ll be retiring at the poverty line because of benefit cuts. Her training session came as pension funds representing Chicago teachers, firefighters and police officers wait and see whether Gov. Pat Quinn signs the pension bills sitting on his desk affecting other groups of Chicago city workers. Quinn has not said whether he will sign that legislation into law, but he&rsquo;s been critical of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel saying he&rsquo;d have to raise property taxes in the city to help pay for pensions.</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 28 Apr 2014 07:54:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-teachers-become-students-illinois-politics-110082 Saucedo teachers spend Day 1 of ISAT teaching; concerns raised about intimidation http://www.wbez.org/news/saucedo-teachers-spend-day-1-isat-teaching-concerns-raised-about-intimidation-109815 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/IMAG2400.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Teachers at Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy declared victory Tuesday, saying their protest of the state&rsquo;s Illinois Standards Achievement Test is working. The teachers said they spent the first day of ISAT testing doing what they set out to&mdash;teaching.</p><p>A week ago, teachers at the Little Village school voted unanimously to refuse to give the exam, which normally carries high stakes in Chicago but is being phased out this year. The school district has said boycotting teachers could lose their jobs or even their teaching certificates.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m very, very happy to say today was a victory,&rdquo; said special education teacher Sarah Chambers after the final bell rang at Saucedo on the first scheduled day of testing there. &ldquo;Overall it went smoothly. The kids who were opting out had the test placed in front of them and they were immediately removed to an opt-out room, where teachers who were refusing to give the test&mdash;the boycotting teachers&mdash;were able to teach them,&rdquo; said Chambers.</p><p>Social studies teacher Ferris Akrabawi&nbsp; said he led students in readings from Mahatma Gandhi&#39;s 1922 trial for sedition. &ldquo;One person&rsquo;s insubordination is another person&rsquo;s&hellip; cry for change,&rdquo; Akrabawi says he taught students.</p><p>But the teachers and activists also decried what they said were heavy-handed tactics on the part of schools to try to get students to take the ISAT. <em>Hear more about this by pushing PLAY above.</em></p><p>Chambers said at Saucedo, some parents who had opted their children out of testing rescinded their opt-out letters after getting calls from the school. She said some teachers who had originally voted to boycott the exam ended up administering it, fearing for their jobs.</p><p>In other parts of the city, a teacher from Otis Elementary in West Town said opt out forms signed by parents weren&rsquo;t respected, and kids were given the test anyway. A dad from Jane Addams Elementary on the Southeast Side said his nine-year-old daughter had to watch classmates eat candy and ice cream after they took their test; kids who opted out didn&rsquo;t get any.</p><p>Chicago Teachers Union vice-president Jesse Sharkey said it was &ldquo;child abuse&rdquo; to put test booklets in front of students whose parents had opted them out of the test. Because state law requires the test be given to all students, some schools handed out test booklets and had teachers read instructions, even to kids who had opted out. Opt out advocates say that put kids as young as eight years old in a situation where they had to choose whether to follow their parent&rsquo;s instruction to skip the test or their teacher&rsquo;s instruction to complete it.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re hearing all these accounts of bullying,&rdquo; Chambers said. &ldquo;Why is this occurring? It&rsquo;s occurring because our CPS is controlled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. And he is a bully.&rdquo;</p><p>CPS parent Cassie Creswell urged the mayor and school officials to be more sensitive to the demands of parents. Creswell said Emanuel had effectively opted his own children out of the ISAT by enrolling them in a private school that gives few standardized tests.</p><p>The district did not respond to questions about particular incidents at schools, but CPS says it won&rsquo;t tolerate acts to coerce or intimidate students into taking the ISAT.</p><p>However, officials say they are in conversations with the state about disciplining the boycotting teachers.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Parents want the right to opt their children out of testing</strong></p><p>On Monday, two dozen Chicago parents filed a complaint asking the American Civil Liberties Union to determine whether parental rights are being violated when it comes to opting their children out of the the ISAT.</p><p>&ldquo;Parents are being asked to rescind their opt out letters, children are being told to call up their parents and opt them back in&mdash;egregious violations of parental rights, egregious mistreatment of children,&rdquo; said Creswell, who is part of the anti-testing group that has spearheaded the opt out effort in Chicago, More Than a Score. The group advocates for less standardized testing in schools.</p><p>But the Illinois State Board of Education says there is no legal mechanism in state law for parents to opt their children out of the federally required accountability exam. All schools must test all third through eighth graders, the state says. Illinois law does allow for students to &ldquo;refuse to engage&rdquo; with a test. Students must be offered the test,&nbsp; but they can refuse it and sit quietly through the testing process, or, if a district allows, read a book during the test, the state board says.</p><p>The state has encouraged parents to have their children take the ISAT. &ldquo;Testing is another point of information that educators can use about children,&rdquo; Illinois State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch said. Scores this year will give an indication of how well students are performing against new Common Core standards, he said.</p><p>Chicago Public Schools is not saying how many students have opted out of the ISAT; activists say it&rsquo;s at least 1,500 kids at 80 schools. Some 171,000 Chicago students were scheduled to take the ISAT.</p></p> Wed, 05 Mar 2014 15:33:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/saucedo-teachers-spend-day-1-isat-teaching-concerns-raised-about-intimidation-109815 Chicago unions organize to fight potential pension cuts http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-unions-organize-fight-potential-pension-cuts-109720 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/401K2012bank_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s most powerful public workers&rsquo; unions are banding together to fend off potential cuts to employee pensions. This effort comes as City Hall and Springfield struggle to dig Chicago out of its multi-billion-dollar pension crisis.</p><p>The coalition, announced Monday, is called We Are One Chicago. It brings together nine labor groups representing nearly 140,000 city workers, from cops to nurses to teachers.</p><p>Organizers say the goal is to humanize the people who might be affected by changes to public pension benefits, like those in the controversial pension law affecting state workers that was passed by state lawmakers in December and signed by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.</p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s administration has suggested that law might be a model for overhauling some of the city&rsquo;s pensions, which together are underfunded by at least $27.5 billion.</p><p>The prospect of a slash in monthly retirement benefits ruffled public workers who spoke at a coalition press conference on Monday.</p><p>&ldquo;I paid my money into the pension, and the employment contract was that I would receive a pension,&rdquo; said firefighter Tom Ruane, who said he hopes to retire at the end of this year after 34 years on the job. &ldquo;If they&rsquo;re gonna break an employment contract, how about they start with the Skyway or the parking meters?&rdquo;</p><p>Also on Monday, the Chicago Teachers Union released a <a href="http://www.ctunet.com/blog/report-great-chicago-pension-caper" target="_blank">report</a> calling for higher or expanded taxes to pay help pay for city pension benefits, in order to avert benefit cuts that they contend violate the Illinois constitution.</p><p>The union&rsquo;s &ldquo;revenue solutions&rdquo; include a graduated state income tax, rather than the current flat one; a city income tax that would encompass suburbanites who work in Chicago; closing corporate tax loopholes; and expanding the sales tax to include services as well as goods, while lowering the tax rate overall.</p><p>Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey dismissed notions that the state-level pension overhaul, now facing <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/politics/unions-file-lawsuit-over-pension-changes-109588" target="_blank">several legal challenges</a>, could be a model for Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s not a starting point we&rsquo;re willing to accept. There needs to be some meaningful conversations about revenue,&rdquo; Sharkey said.</p><p>A spokesman for Chicago Public Schools would not immediately comment for this story.</p><p>Coalition members are planning to rally in Springfield on Wednesday in hopes of persuading lawmakers not to trim city worker benefits. City Hall and CPS are both facing massive, state-mandated spikes in their required pension contributions this year, after decades of underfunding of their retirement systems.</p><p>Unless lawmakers heed Emanuel&rsquo;s call to delay those increases, the city&rsquo;s required contribution for police and fire pensions alone will jump by nearly $590 million this year. Chicago Public Schools, which has a separate budget but is still funded largely by property taxes, faces a roughly $400 million payment hike to its fund for Chicago teachers.</p><p>Emanuel, who as mayor also controls the CPS school board, has said the city simply cannot afford those payments, even though his administration has long known about the impending contribution spikes.</p><p>Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, a close ally of Emanuel&rsquo;s, has said the Chicago teachers will have to accept some benefit changes in order to avoid bigger class sizes and drastic layoffs. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/education/after-massive-layoffs-cps-suggests-teachers-contribute-more-their-pensions-108125" target="_blank">CPS has said</a> an earlier version of the state-level pension reform bill, sometimes referred to as SB1, should be used for Chicago teachers&rsquo; pensions.</p><p>That version would have capped teachers&rsquo; pensionable salaries and required them to kick in more money toward their retirement benefits. It also would have revised annual benefit increases and raised retirement ages.</p><p>It is unclear exactly what kind of fix Emanuel or state lawmakers envision for the city&rsquo;s other two troubled funds, for city laborers and white-collar workers. Mayoral aides have said one option could look similar to a recently-approved <a href="http://www.bondbuyer.com/issues/123_6/chicago-park-district-pension-reforms-signed-into-law-1058808-1.html" target="_blank">overhaul</a> of Chicago Park District pensions.</p><p>In an emailed statement, Emanuel said the city must provide &ldquo;financial security&rdquo; for city workers, but did not offer any specifics.</p><p>&ldquo;The resolution to this crisis must provide a secure retirement for them and retirees, while also looking out for taxpayers and homeowners in every neighborhood who struggle to make ends meet,&rdquo; the statement reads. &ldquo;We need a balanced approach to solve the biggest financial threat our city and school system have ever seen, and look forward to working on these solutions together.&quot;</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe">Alex Keefe</a> is a political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>.</em></p></p> Mon, 17 Feb 2014 17:38:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-unions-organize-fight-potential-pension-cuts-109720 Teachers union president vows to fight cuts to pensions http://www.wbez.org/news/teachers-union-president-vows-fight-cuts-pensions-109618 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/karenlewis.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-4f4111df-eab0-88bc-9e92-a95991dd6897">The head of the Chicago Teachers Union on Friday said she will not accept cuts to retired teachers&rsquo; benefits as a way to ease the district&rsquo;s pension crisis; though she did detail some ideas for easing a funding shortfall of at least $8 billion.</p><p>CTU President Karen Lewis said she was &ldquo;horrified&rdquo; by the controversial overhaul of state worker pensions that became law in December. That law, which scales back benefits for retirees and increases retirement ages for younger workers, has been discussed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s administration as a possible template for the ailing Chicago Teachers&rsquo; Pension Fund.</p><p>&ldquo;All right, you can cut pensions,&rdquo; Lewis said. &ldquo;Then what happens to those people? So this is not just about a spreadsheet piece, it&rsquo;s [about] what actually happens to the people.&rdquo;</p><p>Chicago is facing two big challenges with its teachers&rsquo; pension fund: a state-mandated $400-million spike in contributions next year and a system that is critically underfunded. The underfunding is due, in large part, to a decade-long contribution holiday - when Chicago Public Schools paid nothing toward its teachers&rsquo; pensions - that was followed by a few years of reduced payments.</p><p>In an interview with WBEZ on Friday, Lewis said simply delaying the payments is no longer an option. She suggested that CPS needs to reprioritize its budget in order to meet its required $600 million pension contribution next year, pointing to a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-approves-seven-new-charter-schools-109558" target="_blank">recent decision</a> by CPS&rsquo; board to approve several new charter schools.</p><p>&ldquo;You do have the money,&rdquo; Lewis said of the district. &ldquo;You have to choose to use it. It&rsquo;s a difference between not having the money, [and] having it and not wanting to do it.&rdquo;</p><p>Lewis declined to offer a specific plan for righting the Chicago Teachers&rsquo; Pension Fund, which currently has <a href="http://www.ctpf.org/AnnualReports/cafr2012.pdf" target="_blank">less than half</a> the money it needs to fulfill its long-term obligations. But she did hint at some things she wants to see in a final proposal, which would need approval from state lawmakers.</p><p>Lewis called for a restoration of the designated property tax line item that would exclusively fund Chicago teacher pensions. That&rsquo;s how the system was funded before 1995, when former Mayor Richard M. Daley gained authority over the public schools and that property tax stream was diverted into the district&rsquo;s main bank account.</p><p>And while she said she opposed any changes in benefits for current retirees, Lewis did not rule out changing the benefits of teachers who are still on the job.</p><p>&ldquo;We could have conversations about that,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;We could have significant conversations about that. But there are ways to not have to do that.&rdquo;</p><p>But currently, there aren&rsquo;t any conversations between the union and the Emanuel administration, according to Lewis.</p><p>&ldquo;We haven&rsquo;t been in negotiations for a while because the person who actually is in charge doesn&rsquo;t wanna be in negotiations,&rdquo; she said, referring to the mayor. &ldquo;He wants a bill.&rdquo;</p><p>The district&rsquo;s most recent offer included eliminating cost-of-living increases for retirees&rsquo; benefits and cutting the amount of money contributed to each teacher&rsquo;s pension by about a third, according to the union.</p><p>A CPS spokesman declined to talk specifics about the district&rsquo;s proposals.</p><p>&quot;For the last two years, the District has been working to reach an agreement with CTU on meaningful pension reform that protects the retirement security of our teachers while avoiding dramatic cuts to the classroom,&rdquo; said CPS spokesman Joel Hood. &ldquo;We have always been willing to sit down for discussions with the CTU.&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, Emanuel budget spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said in an email Friday that the mayor meets regularly with state legislative leaders to discuss the city&rsquo;s agenda in Springfield, including pensions.</p><p>Emanuel and his allies in the state legislature have been emphasizing the need to fix Chicago&rsquo;s municipal pension crisis, now that state lawmakers finally passed a law addressing the state&rsquo;s massively underfunded pension systems. On top of the problem with its teachers pensions, City Hall also faces a crisis with its retirement funds for police, firefighters, laborers and municipal workers, which together, face their own nearly $19.5 billion funding shortfall.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/akeefe" target="_blank">Alex Keefe</a> is a political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZpolitics">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://plus.google.com/102759794640397640028">Google+</a>. Reporters <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">Becky Vevea</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold">Tony Arnold</a> contributed to this report.</em></p></p> Fri, 31 Jan 2014 17:42:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/teachers-union-president-vows-fight-cuts-pensions-109618