Saturday, October 5, 2013

Send in the Clowns

HOD Meeting - Send in the Clowns!

By Jim Vail

When the show isn't going well, you send in the clowns.  The popular 1970s song "Send in the Clowns" could have been adopted for the House of Delegates meeting last Wednesday, Oct. 2.

"We have so much more work to do," one delegate lamented at the beginning of the meeting during the question and answer period.  "We have no time to do the enormous amount of work they are demanding.  We are working way beyond our hours at home. And all this is happening since the strike."

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey agreed that the amount of paperwork the Chicago Public Schools is demanding today is "way too much" and that teachers should take their complaints to the principals.  But then he added the principals are under the gun from the network chiefs.  Then Sharkey said we'll march on the network offices.

"We need to push back," he said.

But the CTU leadership had an immediate solution to the problem of sagging teacher morale in the face of a vicious corporate education reform attack on the public school teaching profession - they brought in the clowns.

The highlight was a skit performed between CTU organizer Brandon Johnson and PAC-Legislative chair Gloria Higgins who had the crowd of CTU delegates laughing while they lambasted the politicians, but brought forth the message of why it is important to support the CTU's efforts to work in the political arena.

"You want me to increase my donations?" Johnson said after Higgins told him about increasing contributions to the PAC fund for political work.  "Why would I give more money to the politicians who screw us anyway."

Johnson certainly had the flare of MC and very talented comedian as he worked the crowd with funny outbursts expressing the sentiment of teachers who are losing faith rapidly in everything around them as the attacks on public education intensify.

Even CTU President Karen Lewis continued the comedic act, telling the delegates a story about how this old guy, with wrinkly skin was smiling at her intensely.  Laughter from the audience.  Then she got to the punch time - "He said he knew me, weren't we classmates?" And Lewis added, yeah, Class of '74, then quickly put her hand over mouth, eliciting more laughter.

Then the leadership got serious.

"I hear of stories of people in impossible situations," Sharkey said.  

He said the political process is hurting the teachers when the mayor appoints the school board, closes schools, then gives Archer Daniels Midland a $100 million tax break to relocate to Chicago.

"We filed 80 grievances last month," Sharkey said.  "It's necessary to keep our morale up."

Sharkey added that in response to the New Schools Expo every year that features boutique charter schools, there will be a neighborhood school fair organized by one of the parents who fought valiantly to stop the closure of Lafayette School.

Lewis acknowledged that there is contract language about "bullying" in the schools, but not "meanness."

The CTU did once again tout the fact that merit pay is not a part of the CTU contract as a result of the massive teachers strike last year, saying many states in the west like California are all implementing merit pay.

Lewis did say the "the tide is turning," but did not give much in terms of specifics.  Again, like the clowns, perhaps a line to make people feel better, as the union, and the teachers try to deal with the current onslaught on public education.

Lewis elicited applause when she told the delegates the CTU plans to leave the Merchandise Mart, where it pays millions in rent, to find a better location more connected to the schools and where they can rent out the building for teacher events.

The union leadership held strong on their line to fight charter schools, a line that runs counter to the national and former union leadership where they actually embrace charter schools that are eliminating unionized teachers.  The fact that the UNO schools now have a union that may become "federated" means that the CTU, rather than the IFT, would represent the charter teachers.  However, the teachers would not be able to join the CTU contract, which is much stronger because it represents staff in over 600 schools across the city.

The union did say that that parents and teachers should oppose charter school proposals in areas of the city where the public schools were closed because there were not enough students.

In terms of politics, Lewis noted that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has changed his tune a bit by wanting to change street names after preachers and put a Whole Foods in Englewood.  

"He's worried he can lose his job," Lewis said.  "But he's not worried about people losing their jobs."

Chants rang out in the audience for Karen Lewis to run for mayor, to which she responded with a smile, "D-i-v-o-r-c-e."

Lewis, like Sharkey, tried to focus on the positive and keep the morale of her troops up.  She repeated her words of hope:  "This is the darkness before the dawn."

The following resolutions for the CTU to endorse were passed at the House meeting:

1)  The Principals that Unite Us by the AFT to push back against the ongoing corporate and market driven model of "school reform;"

2)  Join the US Labor Against the War Coalition;

3)  CTU to send letter of support to striking educators in Mexico;

4)  CTU to send letter of support to striking educators in the United Kingdom.

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