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Op-Ed Fri Sep 14 2012
By Lindsey Rohwer
This strike is not a public relations campaign. While I appreciate the attention the issue of inequity in education received this week, I did not leave my classroom in the middle of our first quarter to shed light on this issue. I did so because CPS has refused to negotiate on the issues that matter most in this contract. I stand on the picket line each morning and march each afternoon to put pressure on the mayor and the Board of Education to negotiate on issues they have ignored for the past nine months at the bargaining table.
It is hard for me and my fellow teachers to trust the other side of the table on this year's contract when they've ignored supposedly legal-binding agreements in our last contract, haphazardly implementing a longer school day and denying negotiated raises for two years. It's hard for us to believe that there is no money to provide air conditioning for schools while the CEO and other CPS leadership receive raises. It is hard for us to believe there is no money to fund wrap-around services when the size of central office staff has increased. It is hard for us to understand the justification behind potentially closing 100 CPS schools when there are plans to open 60 new charter buildings.
There is also the question of who will most benefit from this contract. We do not have an elected school board; our Board of Education is made up of mayoral-appointed millionaires who have little to no experience as educators and whose children are not affected by what happens in public schools, and there is evidence that rubber-stamping for the mayor leads to political favors.
I know my colleagues put our children's best interests first, so I trust my co-worker who is at the bargaining table to negotiate for our students, but it's harder for me to trust a paid outside law firm that has so far earned over a million dollars, and who had to ask my co-worker what, exactly, a "clinician" is, and what they do at our school. Don't we have a team of CPS lawyers who could do this negotiating without costing the district an extra million dollars?
Many teachers are also striking in opposition to language in the contract- the "management clause" -- that would severely limit our ability to negotiate for the best interests of our students in the future. We strike because we do not want to eliminate language in the contract that defines our role as teachers [PDF]. CPS has said over the last year that they want to "modernize" and "streamline" the language in the contract, but we want to be assured that we will not be asked to perform tasks that would divert unnecessary time and attention from teaching.
This has been a difficult week for many reasons, not the least of which is our students being in other buildings, or no buildings at all, instead of in our classrooms. By striking, we are committing to making up much more than the time missed in order to make sure our students get what they need this school year. Though we will of course have to rework the school calendar to make up for the lost days, I know when we return to classes that staff at my school will be working many additional unpaid hours to make sure students are prepared for the ACT, AP tests, and college applications, among other things. But we will do so knowing that we participated in a necessary strike, in order to provide our students with more of what they need to be truly supported, this year and beyond.
Lindsey Rohwer is has taught in CPS for seven years. She currently teaches Spanish at TEAM Englewood High School. She is a 2006 Chicago alumna of Teach for America and works at the TFA Chicago training institute.