Random thoughts. Compromise.


I don’t know Elizabeth Scalia.

From the short description at the bottom of her Trib op-ed piece I know she is a 22-year veteran teacher at Chicago’s Oscar Meyer. She teaches 6-8 Language Arts.

That is not an easy job. I was a K-5 teacher and the few times I taught middle school I wasn’t very good at it. I’m almost sure that enjoying being around 13-year olds all day needs a specific and unique DNA. I don’t have it.

Ms Scalia is also a National Board Certified Teacher. That is no easy process to go through.

So I have no intention of smacking Ms Scalia as a teacher.

But the op-ed? It is nonsense.

I have no doubt that Ms Scalia knows her stuff when it comes to leading her classes in explorations of great books.

But her Trib post demonstrates she knows nothing about unions and bargaining. That may be why the anti-union Trib printed her opinion. She writes that her union, the Chicago Teachers Union, “must compromise.”

There is this misconception about collective bargaining and collective bargaining agreements. Many people – Ms Scalia being one – view the process and the agreement as a union thing. As in “a union contract.”

I once had a principal who kept referring to our CBA as “the union contract,” as if it was something imposed on her by us.

Writing that the union bargaining team must compromise is wasting paper. Compromise is the process both sides are already engaged in. It is called “bargaining.”

Look at the bottom of any collective bargaining agreement and you will see two columns of signatures. One side has the signatures of the  members of the union bargaining team. The other column has the signatures of the board.

The union “must compromise” stuff is just silly. Bargaining is nothing if it is not the act of compromise.

The old agreement expired over a year ago, and while from all reports the CPS board has not really started bargaining until recently, there has already been plenty of compromise.

Ms Scalia should be joining the rest of her members in calling for a fair contract.

Latest Trib poll: Chicago is a union town. We stand with our teachers.



If the pundits, the Sun-Times and Trib editorial boards and the Mayor were hoping the parents and voters of Chicago had deserted their teachers, this mornings Chicago Trib poll should put that bogus hope to rest.

We citizens of Chicago side with the teachers in the current fight by a margin of three to one.

Three times as many Chicagoans side with the teachers union as with Mayor Rahm Emanuel on how to improve public schools at a time when the two sides remain locked in contentious contract negotiations, a Chicago Tribune poll has found.

The survey also found that Emanuel’s approval rating on education has fallen to a record low as the mayor and Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool are slashing budgets and cutting jobs in the face of the latest massive budget shortfall. Voters’ displeasure with the mayor’s handling of education tracks with the similarly low marks they gave Emanuel on his overall job performance and handling of crime.

As CPS has faced surging pension costs and a plummeting credit rating — the district borrowed $725 million Wednesday at an extraordinarily high interest rate to stay afloat this year — Emanuel has sought budget relief from the state. Those efforts, however, have been caught up in the Springfield stalemate. And now Gov. Bruce Rauner is calling for a state takeover of CPS and suggesting the district file for bankruptcy.

Amid all that, Emanuel offered a new contract that would have provided teachers with modest raises while requiring them to pay more toward their health care and pensions. A union bargaining team unanimously rejected it.

The poll found that 60 percent of Chicagoans said they side with the Chicago Teachers Union over improving schools while 20 percent backed Emanuel. Another 12 percent sided with neither, while 7 percent had no opinion.

Yep. Chicago is a union town.

See you today at 4:30. 135 South La Salle. Wear red.

All out for the CTU on Thursday.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 6.56.46 AM.jpg

Graphic: Ellen Gradman.

The Chicago Teachers Union has called for a large turnout on Thursday of teachers, parents and community members to demonstrate their outrage over the move by CPS CEO Forrres Clayfool to shred the collective bargaining process. Clayfool is acting unilaterally, promising to layoff hundreds, maybe thousands, of staff and to cut contractual compensation.

Prior to the vote of the bargaining team to reject the last board offer on Monday, some self-proclaimed critics of little substance attacked Karen Lewis and the CTU leadership team for selling-out the membership by accepting a tentative agreement. Jumping the gun before the bargaining team or the membership even had a chance to see what was offered seemed very divisive to me.

There was no TA.

Chicago Teacher’s Union VP Jesse Sharkey appeared on Chicago Tonight and discussed the current situation.

On the bargaining unit’s rejection of what was initially described as a “serious offer”

“It was never a tentative agreement,” Sharkey said. “We deliberated for more than 40 hours. There are a number of things that are in this offer that people took very seriously and as a sign of progress. But in the end, we just can’t trust the district to live up to a series of promises that they made.”

On the state of continued negotiations

“We had a brief meeting this morning. Kind of a gut-check,” Sharkey said. “Today was a pretty tense day, but we wanted to reaffirm the commitment. We have a serious bargaining relationship with the board, and we’ve been through hard times before–there was a strike in 2012–and we’ve never stopped meeting. So we’re going to keep doing that. We’re going to keep working and try to avoid a shutdown of the district, a strike. We’re going to try to get an agreement.”

On whether he’d characterize proposed cuts announced today by CPS as a speed bump or, in the words of CTU President Karen Lewis, an “act of war”

“It’s difficult to tell, to answer your question,” Sharkey said. “Trust is one of these things that’s a little bit nebulous. CTU members feel like the cuts that were in this offer were very real, very concrete, contractually enforceable. But then there’s promises which we didn’t feel were very real. For example, we have a charter school cap on board-opened charters. But what about the fact that the state can open an unlimited number of charters? I think if we can find some way of doing some political trust, and have the district follow through on, say, commitments to increase revenue, that would be a step in the right direction.”

On the proposed state takeover of CPS

“I think this is part of Rauner’s Turnaround agenda; I think he’s bringing it up for political reasons that are sufficient to him. But when he says, ‘Let me in there, I’ll solve the teachers union contract’ … That’s a joke. He hasn’t solved the AFSCME contract, which is one where he has some direct authority and involvement. I don’t think Rauner has any business coming in and trying to run public schools in Chicago. I think we should have Democratic school governance in the city. Rauner’s threats are a distraction. He should pass a budget. That would help.”

Watch the video to hear the full interview with Jesse.

Phil Cantor, Chicago teacher and CTU member explains why the CTU doesn’t have a contract:

Two days ago I posed the question, “Does CPS have a contract?” The answer is clearly a strong “NO.” The Chicago Teachers Union 40 person Big Bargaining Team unanimously rejected the tentative agreement that CPS had proposed.

The CPS offer basically froze compensation for most teachers for four years. I was OK with that… even though CPS has taken about $2 Billion from teachers in the past five years. I like the idea of getting rid of the pension pick-up, but don’t want teachers to suffer 7% pay cuts to achieve it. Some teachers would have come out with a tiny increase over 4 years, other teachers – longer serving teachers-  would have had to take a significant pay cut.

CPS’s offer also included a requirement – added at the last minute – that over 2000 CTU members take early retirement with the provision that if that number didn’t leave the profession the contract would be re-opened. In other words… the whole thing would be scrapped. To me this seems like a poison pill. How could CTU agree to a contract that forced a 10% reduction in teachers and school staff? How could CTU agree to a contract which had a self-destruct clause in it? 

There were good things in the contract proposal; things for which our bargaining team has been fighting for over a year. There was some movement on issues like standardized testing, teacher paperwork, REACH evaluation and other non-monetary concessions by CPS. This is good. These things are not small. These matter to our students and to our ability to do our jobs.

But in addition to the forced retirement/self destruct clause there was one other factor that made it impossible for the CTU teachers, clinicians and PSRPs on the bargaining team to give this proposal a thumbs up.  The lack of trust we have for Rahm, Rauner and CPS really sank the deal. As Reagan said about nuclear arms negotiations with the Soviet Union: “Trust but verify.”

Read the entire blog post here.

All out for the CTU on Thursday!

CTU bargaining team unanimously rejects CPS offer.

According to Michelle Gunderson, member of the CTU bargaining team:

Chicago educators and allies: You will hear many things in the news about our contract. Here is my analysis from today’s work in the bargaining team.

As a union we were asked to make significant cuts, yet what the board offered in return had significant holes.

1. The board’s offer was dependent on a specified number of veteran educators retiring, and the language offered would re-open our contract if the number was not met.

2. The language regarding lay off protections did not prevent a reduction of force for reasons other the economic pressures.

3. The promise of no charter school expansion is moot when the state commission can undermine it.

After strong deliberation, even though the board’s proposal offered us significant gains, we could not accept the Chicago Public School board’s tentative agreement.

In the end, this is a matter of trusting those who have proven themselves untrustworthy. I personally could not say yes, and the decision to reject was unanimous on the bargaining team.

What’s behind the Rauner move? Tag teaming with Rahm to bust the CTU.


If there is any doubt as to what is behind the Rauner threat to take over the Chicago Public Schools, the governor made it clear this afternoon.

“I believe if we get involved we can take on the teachers union,” Rauner said Wednesday after participating in a blood drive at Union Station. “The mayor is afraid of them. He’s not taking them on. He caved in the teachers strike four and half years ago and he’s sending the message right now he’s going to give them what they want and then say: ‘State, pay for it.’”

A criticism of Mayor Rahm?

Don’t be silly.

These two are old wine-sharing buddies.

This is the two of them doing a tag team with contract negotiations.

While Democratic Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton have declared the specifics of the GOP takeover proposal dead in the water, the situation is still fluid.

Make no mistake. This is hard ball bargaining tactics.

Anyone who has been at the bargaining table, as I have, can smell this kind of good-cop/bad-cop stuff a mile away.

Make no mistake. The target is the teachers union.

Sun-Times breaks a story about the CTU that the CTU broke nine months ago.


The CTU sold this building. Old news. Not a scoop.

The Sun-Times investigative reporters Dan Mihalopoulos and Lauren Fitzpatrick report a news scoop that reminds me of the one Mihalopoulos broke about CTU President Karen Lewis when she was considering a mayoral run.

Do you remember the one Mihapolousos did about Lewis’ vast real estate holdings: A Hawaiian time share and a family home in Michigan?

A bogus story if there ever was one.

Today, the Watchdogs of the Sun-Times uncovered the fact that the CTU sold a building it owned, placed the money in a bank account and established a foundation that awards grants to groups that advance the cause of public education and social justice.

This story isn’t bogus.

It’s just old news.

Crain’s carried the story of the building sale last April.

And the CTU reported it on their own web site nine months ago.

The Foundation received $8.1 million from the Tower Corp. in FY 2014 and, in its first activities in making charitable donations, granted approximately $1,014,000 to 22 charitable and educational organizations in amounts ranging from $30,000 to $100,000, the latter to a scholarship program offered to Chicago public school students. The Foundation is supporting the Infinite Scholars Program which has provided some $19 million in scholarships to CPS students over the past two years. Scholarship fairs were conducted at 11 CPS high schools last year. The Foundation is also providing support for teacher certification programs and vision care programs for Chicago public school students.

Is the Sun-Times suggesting that there is something wrong with the teachers union giving money to organizations that support a union agenda?

Was it a secret?

Is it a scoop?



Keeping retirement weird. School Wars.


I am not a big science fiction movie fan. But my daughter and daugher-in-law are in town for the holidays. They love this stuff.  It was a no brainer that we were going to see Star Wars yesterday.

Along with everybody else.

The big cultural news is that after countless episodes of the Star Wars franchise, there is a young woman warrior leading the struggle against the Dark Side. Her name is Rey.

This is not so earth-shaking in Chicago. We have been led by a woman warrior in School Wars, The Never-ending Sequel against the Dark Side for a number of years now. Her name is Karen.

A month ago the Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago’s version of The Resistance, took a practice vote on whether to strike. Over 90% of the Chicago Teacher Union members voted yes.

Some local news reporters got all upset and said that the members of the union didn’t know what the were voting for.

Yes, they did.

When the CTU took the official strike authorization vote a couple of weeks ago, 96% of those voting said yes. 88% of the membership said yes.

Since nobody doubted the result this time, the only thing the unelected school board, their CEO Forrest Claypool and Mayor Rahm could do was send their lawyer to file a complaint that the vote didn’t follow procedures.

“A vote taken prior to conclusion of mediation, prior to issuance of the fact-finder’s report, prior to exchange of comprehensive proposals is indicative of nothing,” said the lawyer for the Dark Side.

Shouldn’t they be spending their time bargaining?

“They’re trying to impose conditions in the impasse procedures that don’t exist in the law,” said Robert Bloch, lawyer for The Resistance. “It’s CPS’ Hail Mary pass that they will (do so).”

Near the end of Star Wars it appears that the Dark Side has all the big guns and you can’t see how that new woman leader, Rey, will win.

 I won’t spoil it for you.



Tenth Ward Alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza, Chicago’s first elected Chicago Teachers Union member of the Chicago City Council.

I can imagine that at this coming Thursday’s Thanksgiving dinner the topic of Chicago teachers might come up in somebody’s family conversation. On one side of the table young cousin Martha, a Chicago teacher herself, will be extolling the virtues and sacrifices of her colleagues and why the union’s bargaining position is fair.

Uncle Bill, an ardent supporter of the presidential aspirations and immigrant positions of Donald Trump, will sneer and say, “If your union bosses are all for the kids, why the hell are they asking for any money. Sweetie.”

Talk of current events at extended-family Thanksgiving dinner can often be a toxic combo.

Personally, that’s not true for me. There will only be union supporters sharing turkey at our dinner. Things may only turn south when the dessert dishes are cleared and we engage in what my brother calls full-contact Scrabble. It is only then that the gloves may come off.

One year we went head to head over the legitimacy of the word, clafouti.

Since the word included all seven tiles, the outcome of the debate was a game changer.

I only tell this story because it was my Scrabble word and I remember winning the game. Other members of the Klonsky family may remember it differently, of course.

Perhaps the spirit of unity that I saw at last night’s CTU rally will spread across the land on Thursday. Uncle Bill and cousin Martha will come together as folks did in Butler Field on a cold November evening on the Lakefront.

By the way, even most Chicagoans don’t know that the lawn in front of the Petrillo Band Shell is called Butler Field. I received many calls during the day yesterday asking, “Where the F is Butler Field.”

What the rally demonstrated to me was that this fight is more than a fight for money. Oh. Make no mistake, Uncle Bill. It’s about money.

Rahm and the board want money and they want to take it from the teachers, nurses, paraprofessionals, clinicians and others covered by the CTU contract,  a contract, which President Karen Lewis reminded me, has already expired.

Yes, Uncle Bill. This is a contract fight in which the board wants to take money away from their employees.

Last night was a rare sight. Real diversity in a city that rarely has a chance to witness such such a thing. It was a show of support with Democrat State Representative Robert Martwick from the northwest side of Chicago sitting with young Black Lives Matter activists.

As an aside, Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery gave a rousing speech. Illinois Education Association Executive Director Audrey Soglin was announced but was a no-show.

Maybe the cold kept her car from starting.

No matter. My take-away is that if the teachers in Chicago walk, it will be for genuine fairness. Nor just for money.

And this is just some advice I give to Mayor Rahm and CEO Forrest Claypool. I give it for free. You should settle now and avoid a strike. It is much harder to settle when teachers walk out for fairness than it is to settle when they bargain for money.

It is harder to quantify fairness than it is to quantify money. Union members will know it when they see it.

Am I right cousin Martha?




Peter Cunningham came home to Chicago after working for six years in Arne Duncan’s Department of Education. He started something called Education Post.

It’s time for a different conversation about public education and what our children need — an honest and civil conversation of many voices, united by a common belief in the power of education to transform lives.

Honest and civil wouldn’t be the words that come to mind reading Cunningham’s op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times yesterday.

He says CTU members didn’t really vote to strike the other day, even though 97% of them voted to support the negotiating team in rejecting the board of education’s current bargaining position.

He called the vote a “phony.”

Cunningham says teachers were “whipped into a frenzy of anger and mistrust” by President Karen Lewis and CTU leaders.

I need help following Cunningham’s argument. Lewis whipped the teachers into a frenzy in order for them not to vote for a strike?

Then he brings out the tired old blather that teachers should share the pain. As if teachers haven’t given enough while the millionaires of this city have robbed the city blind – with the Mayor’s blessing.

Cunningham wants teachers to accept Forrest Claypool and the Mayor’s  7% pay cut,

Teachers are also among the very city taxpayers being hit by the Mayor’s property tax hike.

The pension liability is not the result of the 7% pension cost pick-up by the board. It is the result of the failure of the city to pay, over many years, what it owes into the various city pension funds.

Boards of education picking up pension costs in lieu of salary is not uncommon in the state. It is the result of collective bargaining in which both sides find mutual benefit to the arrangement.

Cunningham warns the CTU how bad the optics will be if there is a strike. He says it will look bad for the union to have teachers walking the picket line while charter schools are crammed with kids.

Only charter schools aren’t crammed with kids.

Raise Your Hand has found over 13,000 empty seats in Chicago charter schools this year.

That is a thousand more empty seats than last year.

It ain’t optics most of us are worried about.

The Mayor and Forrest Claypool have threatened to fire 5,000 teachers by December.

Cunningham, in a frenzy, wants teachers to give even more.