-From Troy LaRaviere’s blog.
During my career as a Chicago Public School principal, I have often been at odds with the Chicago Teachers Union. I have been the target of multiple grievances filed by CTU against me when I have disciplined or dismissed a teacher. All were signed by Karen Lewis, and I fought most of them vigorously. Given that history, you might think it odd that I support several CTU stances. However, I believe in a simple truth: When you’re wrong, you’re wrong; and when you’re right, you’re right. Unfortunately, our mayor and his appointed board of education have been so irresponsible and so reckless, that I find myself squarely in agreement with the CTU on several school issues.
When they’re right, they’re right.
Furthermore, during the latest contract negotiations, I have come to the conclusion that CTU’s refusal to accept the Board’s last contract offer gives the residents of Chicago the best chance we have to fix the causes of CPS’ financial crises. The continuation of the negotiations gives the CTU an opportunity to clearly and repeatedly articulate the real causes of CPS’ financial problems to Chicagoans, and to challenge us to hold our officials accountable and ensure they do not repeat their failures.
Those failures were described by Paul Vallas. I’m not an admirer of his education policy, but Vallas was the last Chicago Public Schools CEO to leave the district with a structurally balanced long-term budget. He also left CPS with a fully funded pension system, and over $1 billion in reserves. When Vallas returned to Chicago this past August, I was fortunate enough to have an hour-long conversation with him a few days before we both participated in a panel at the City Club of Chicago. During our conversation—and during the panel—Vallas outlined the financial rules that kept CPS budgets balanced during his tenure. Those practices included the following:
- He did not add programs without identifying additional revenue to pay for them.
- He did not borrow for operational expenses.
- He did not spend on new schools when there was declining enrollment. Building new schools should be based on demographics, not school reform ideology.
- He did not redirect funding for pension payments toward other spending projects.
After Vallas’ departure, the mayor’s appointees to CPS lost all fiscal discipline and consistently violated every one of these sound budgeting practices. As a result of their mismanagement, CPS now claims they need “shared sacrifice” from teachers. Teachers union officials don’t seem to have the kind of consistent and concise messaging the Mayor’s office has, so the average news consumer may not notice that within CTU’s response are the keys to solving CPS’ fiscal crisis. I will take the liberty of fine-tuning CTU’s message and speaking as the Chicago public school teacher and union member I once was, before becoming an administrator nearly a decade ago.