Chicago Public Schools officials didn't hesitate to rail against the city's teachers union during Wednesday's budget presentation to the Chicago Board of Education, and board members were more than willing to provide top CPS officials with an opportunity to gripe.
After schools chief Ron Huberman explained how principals and central office employees have given up merit-based raises and taken furlough days (as if they had a choice), board president Mary Richardson-Lowry set him up by asking, "Are there any other segments of the employed world -- the group of people that the district employs -- that hasn't put forth merit-based or furlough sacrifices?"
Huberman on CTU
Earlier this month, more than 400 delegates from the teachers union voted unanimously to reject an offer from district negotiators to give up about $100 million dollars in benefits to help save 1,000 teaching positions. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis pointed out to board members that during the same week union delegates shot down CPS's offer, federal lawmakers approved the so-called "EduJobs" bill, which would give the district $106 million dollars to help prevent teacher layoffs. Huberman has said the money would go toward reducing high-school class sizes to 31 students, which he estimates will restore 400 teaching positions that had been cut. (Before the federal infusion of cash, the district proposed increasing class sizes to 33 students.)
Karen Lewis on CPS
But before this blame game went back and forth, the teachers union got some international support. The Chicago Teachers Union held a protest across the street from CPS headquarters. The teachers brought a helium tank with them to blow up red and blue balloons with the message "Our Children's Dreams" printed on them. Norine Gutekanst, a third grade teacher who helped organize the protest, said teachers would have gathered in front of CPS HQ, but the scaffolding that's currently up would have popped their balloons.
Normally these sorts of things are mostly attended by a bunch of business-casual-dressed teachers and some CPS students. But halfway during the protest, a bunch of fashion-conscious teenagers appeared and took pictures of themselves holding balloons and posing in front of a police car. I walked up to one of them, a kid who gave his name as‚ Paul Resgaly, to try and figure out what motivated him and his friends to come out to the union protest.
Resgaly said they were part of a student foreign exchange program in Iowa, and they escaped to Chicago to do some sightseeing. They were accompanied by English teacher Catherine Mahe, who told me teachers in France were going through similar situations as the Chicago Teachers Union.
Mahe told me they were on their way to the Rookery Building near City Hall, but as they headed out, Resgaly received a souvenir from a teacher.
"The woman gave me a ball," he said holding up a red balloon.