CPS school closings: the writing was on the wall
Chicago Public Schools on Thursday announced the largest school shakeup in the nation: closing 54 schools and 61 buildings, jostling 30,000 kids and leaving the future of more than 1,000 teachers unclear
Director of Labor Policy
I hate to say I told you so, but after the Chicago Teachers Union strike against Chicago Public Schools last fall I wrote:
A district that expects to drain its reserve funds and is looking at a billion-dollar budget hole the year after this cannot afford across-the-board pay raises. Either CPS will need a bailout, or we can look forward to schools being closed and teachers laid off.
And now the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting:
Chicago Public Schools on Thursday announced the largest school shakeup in the nation: closing 54 schools and 61 buildings, jostling 30,000 kids and leaving the future of more than 1,000 teachers unclear.
Im no psychic this outcome was pretty obvious to anyone who understands how budgets work. CTU won pay raises totaling 17.6 percent (when annual steps are included), but those raises will come from a district that was staring at a $1 billion budget deficit. A school district with no money to spare and more expensive teachers really has only one option: contraction.
CTU President Karen Lewis and the Coalition of Rank-and-File Educators faction that now control the CTU may think they won a great victory over CPS. Lewis herself has become something of a rock star among the more zealous union groups.
In the speeches that she gives to enthusiastic union audiences, Lewis likes to distill union strategy down to three questions: Does it unite us? Does it make us stronger? Does it increase our power? But she ignores a fourth: Does it allow our employer to function? (Watch the full video. The whole thing is worth watching, but the questions come about 12 minutes in.)
In CTUs case, that last question should be restated: Will it improve education in CPS? In public Lewis may profess concern for the children, but in her role as a union official, students dont appear to be a high priority.
The school district has put together a fairly convincing case for many of the closures: that $1 billion shortfall in the budget is still there, many buildings are only half full and the district could save close to $100 million annually. The district isnt highlighting this, but according to CPS estimates the raises agreed to in the current contract cost the school system $74 million per year, which is probably making more school closings necessary than there might have been otherwise. By contrast, the unions response has been long on indignation, but short on specifics.
Union officials may enjoy class conflict rhetoric, but they represent employees who cannot prosper unless their employers, who pay the salaries and arrange for the benefits, are at least holding their own. Tear down employers that includes CPS and union members lose work. At some point conflict has to give way to cooperation. Otherwise everyone loses.
The contract that CPS and CTU signed last fall was not the end of the battle between the schools and the union; it was just the beginning. Teachers can still lose, and badly. So could Chicago schoolchildren.