FURLOUGH DAYS, A DAY OF ACTION, AND WHAT IT ALL MEANS
As a principal in Chicago’s public schools (Blaine Elementary) I have found myself fielding parent concerns about the Chicago Teachers Union’s April 1st “Day of Action.” After giving it some thought, I responded with the letter below. It attempts to put the Day of Action in its larger context to help Chicago residents get the most out of the opportunity it presents us with.
The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates recently authorized a “Day of Action” (one-day strike) on April 1st. Their intent is to bring the need for adequate school funding to the forefront of our public dialogue about education in Chicago.
On a related note–after suffering a mid-year $127,000 budget cut–Blaine parents stepped up to launch the “We Are Blaine” fundraiser to ensure students keep the services they would have otherwise lost as a result of the cuts. Some parents have asked me, “Why should I support the ‘We are Blaine’ fundraiser if teachers are going to miss a day of school to participate in the ‘Day of Action?’” My response is that our teachers are fighting to keep you–our parents–from ever having to fundraise like this again.
When I arrived at Blaine five years ago parent fundraising efforts were focused on things like enhancements to our sports field, out-of-town student field trips, or promethean boards for our classrooms. Today–after five years of CPS budget cuts–parents are fundraising for essentials like recess monitors, teacher assistants, and classroom teacher positions that maintain reasonable class sizes. Putting parents in a position to have to fundraise for such basic educational services is an immoral and unethical embarrassment to our school system; and our teachers know it. They also know that most school across CPS don’t have a parent income base that would allow them to do any significant fundraising at all. When their budgets are cut, their students lose resources.
As a result, teachers have voted on a Day of Action because they are fighting to force City Hall and Springfield to adequately fund our schools. While the union’s communication around the Day of Action has not been as far-reaching and effective as it needs to be (Union President Karen Lewis acknowledged this Thursday on the PBS program, Chicago Tonight) that does not change the validity of our teachers’ cause. They are not alone in this effort; nearly 50 community groups across Chicago are standing with our teachers, and I hope that all Blaine parents stand with them as well. It is time to stand up and say to City Hall and Springfield: “Enough is enough! Fund our schools now!”
It is unfortunate this will mean families–including mine–will have to search for alternative childcare options for our children. Families are encouraged to keep their children home. For those who cannot, a list of contingency sites will be provided by CPS on March 29th. It is important however to remember that this will not be the first time students had to sacrifice a day of school this year. On March 3rd, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked schools chief annouced CPS was taking a full day of learning away from our students. His chosen date was Friday, March 25th (today). This left parents across Chicago scrambling to make alternative plans for childcare. As I write this my son is working by my side, when he should be in school. The administration’s stated reasons for this “furlough” day was to save money and to help close a budget gap.
Parents must understand that this furlough day was completely unnecessary. Just one month earlier CPS announced a midyear budget cut to schools across the city. That same day progressive members of the City Council put forth a measure to use funds from tax increment financing (TIF) accounts to cover CPS’ budget shortfall. Those funds would have made the furlough days and the midyear cuts unnecessary. Unfortunately, the mayor’s allies on the city council defeated the measure, denying our schools the funds which would have prevented both the midyear cuts and the loss of a full day of learning.
This is but one of literally dozens of actions taken by City Hall over the last five years to undermine the financial health of our school district in order to create and maintain a financial crisis that serves to justify City Hall’s repeated attempts to reduce the compensation of the educators who serve our children.
From Fred Klonsky’s Blog:
Our teachers have been battered by this administration’s attacks and they have been forced to live with the blatant hypocrisy behind the calls for teacher financial sacrifices while the district continues to engage in wasteful spending, reckless borrowing, and their steadfast commitment to steering CPS dollars to banks and investors that profit from our schools’ losses. From banks to corporate donors, City Hall has demonstrated its commitment to using our tax dollars to pay off every one it is indebted to–except the one group of people who actually worked for what they’re owed: our children’s teachers.
I have written succinctly in recent months about City Hall’s mismanagement and reckless financial practices. The three articles below provide succinct overviews of the major issues at hand. The last one is written by long-time Chicago political journalist, Ben Joravsky.
Saving CPS from CPS: Real Shared Sacrifice
The Agreement, The Arrangement, and the Betrayal: The dangerous false logic in political messaging about public pensions
Joravsky, Ben. More Money for Wall Street. More problems for Chicago’s Schools: Instead of finding ways to improve our credit risk, the mayor’s council allies bury a TIF investigation. The Chicago Reader.
I have no doubt that our teachers would rather be in school than out begging our elected officials for adequate school funding. Many of them have said as much to me. However, they will indeed be organizing during the Day of Action because they have been made to feel that this is the only option left to get City Hall and Springfield to hear them.
As one CPS teacher wrote openly to Mayor Emanuel: “We teachers have tried darn near everything to get you to realize that there are many ways to get additional funding for our schools and you refuse to do them. So we are left with no choice but to strike.”
Indeed our mayor repeatedly ignored revenue solutions and instead mounted a failed five-year effort to get CPS & City Hall to renege on their pension obligations–an effort that anyone familiar with the Illinois Constitution knew was doomed to fail at the outset. In those same five years our mayor has focused little to no attention on what we all know is the solution: adequate revenue and responsible management of our public school tax dollars. So now our teachers feel compelled to take this extraordinary step to force attention onto reasonable revenue solutions and responsible fiscal policies that prevent the waste and reckless spending that created this crisis.
In relationship to the Day of Action and its stated goals, I am clear on which side I stand: On the side of our teachers and the children they’re fighting for. I hope that all of us will stand with them. I will send out more information about how to support our teachers’ efforts as it becomes available.
Last and most importantly, I will treat all teachers and parents with the utmost respect whether they agree or disagree with the Day of Action, and I expect all teachers, parents, and students to follow that lead. No one at Blaine school should be made to feel unwelcome or marginalized because of their opinions or positions on this issue. However imperfect it is, we still live in a democracy and our differing opinions are at the heart of what brings that democracy alive. Last weekend I played in the Blaine Dads Got Game basketball tournament. After I hit a long jump shot a dad joked with me that I was “Feeling the Bern”: a teasing reference to my support of presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders. He jokingly told me he liked an ad I did for the Sanders campaign but that he was still voting Republican. Our differing politics came up a couple times that day, but the conversations were respectful and, more importantly, our differing opinions didn’t stop us from coming together to play some great basketball games and raise funds for Blaine’s Sports Booster Club. That is the Spirit of Blaine that I know will continue regardless of our differing opinions on the Day of Action.
Whether you are in agreement with our teachers’ Day of Action or not, my hope is that we all remember the bigger picture: that it is these teachers–not the politicians they are fighting–who made the decision to dedicate their careers to the often thankless job of meeting the academic and emotional needs of Chicago’s children. When all is said and done, the elected officials and pundits will be off on some other issue while our teachers are the ones who will be there each day for our students.
Our teachers will be there for our children, and our administration will be there for our teachers. I hope all of you will be there for them as well.
Principal and Parent
Chicago’s public schools
Dellimore, Craig. (February 9, 2016). Dozens Of Aldermen Backing Resolution To Use Surplus TIF Funds To Help CPS. CBS2 Chicago News.http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2016/02/09/dozens-of-aldermen-backing-resolution-to-use-surplus-tif-funds-to-help-cps/
Cox, Ted (February 9, 2016). Parents Scold Aldermen After Funding Plan For CPS Stalled: ‘Shame On You’. DNA Info Chicago.
Blumberg, Nick (March 24, 2016). CTU President Karen Lewis Explains 1-Day Teachers Strike.
Stieber, Dave (March 24, 2016). I Just Saved Rahm and CPS Millions During My Lunch Period. Huffington Post, Chicago.
Lewis, Karen (March 17, 2016). Why Officers Propose an April 1 Day of Action. Chicago Teachers Union.
Alderman John Arena (February 13, 2016). Ald. Arena Talks Next Steps On TIF Funding Proposal For CPS.
Loo, Nancy (February 9, 2016). Protesters want TIF money used for Chicago schools. WGN TV News.
Ramirez-Rosa, Carols; et al (January 13, 2016). Expression of support for use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) surplus funds to offset budget deficit at Chicago Public Schools. Chicago City Clerk’s Office.
Signed Resolution: http://www.ctunet.com/blog/text/City_Council_R2016-21.pdf
Biasco, Paul (January 20, 2016). Aldermen Push To Use TIF Surplus Money to Prevent CPS Cuts. DNA Info Chicago.
Gillers, Heather & Grotto, Jason (November 10, 2014). Banks Kept CPS in Shaky Bond Market. Chicago Tribune.
Gillers, Heather & Grotto, Jason (November 7, 2014). CPS resisted sharing financial data with public. Chicago Tribune.
Fang, Lee (September 15, 2014). Venture are capitalist poised to “disrupt” everything about the education market. The Nation.
Andrzejewski, Adam (March 25, 2015). The Moral Bankruptcy of Chicago’s Elites: As the City Approaches Bankruptcy Chicago’s Elites Line their Pockets with Taxpayer Money. Forbes Magazine.
Chase, John; Coen, Jeff & Ruthhart, Bill (January 30, 2015). Rahm Emanuel Counts on Big Donors, with Many getting City Hall Benefits. Chicago Tribune.
Chicago Tribune Editorial Board (July 2, 2015). CPS: Stop Blaming Springfield.
FitzPatrick, Lauren (March 25, 2014). CPS Wants to Spend $10 Million on Office Furniture. Chicago Sun-Times.
Joravsky, Ben (December 3, 2014). How Investment Bankers are Set to Profit from Rahm’s Preschool Plan. Chicago Reader.
Grotto, Jason & Gillers, Heather (November 7, 2014). Risky Bonds Prove Costly for Chicago Public Schools. Chicago Tribune.