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Karen Lewis says teachers will strike if necessary

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The head of the Chicago Teachers Union got approval to authorize a strike less than two weeks before tens of thousands of children are scheduled to go back to class.

A strike authorization does not mean there will be a strike, but it is a step in that direction.

The Chicago Teachers Union's House of Delegates granted its leadership the authority to give 10-days notice of strike action as required by state law. For a work stoppage to happen the first day of school - September 4th - notice would have to come by Saturday.

Earlier, teachers protested outside a Chicago Board of Education meeting where next year's school budget was passed. At $5.73 billion it contains $665 million from reserve funds to cover the board's deficit. The plan calls for teachers to get a 2-percent wage increase each of the next three years.

"None of us wants a strike. But I will say this: if it is necessary to do so, we will," said Karen Lewis, Chicago Teachers Union president. "We want a comprehensive contract that puts students and educators first, not the administrators, not this chaos that runs this building."

The demonstration was held before school board members met to discuss a strike contingency plan, which reportedly includes opening park district buildings, libraries, and community centers to offer students a place to go.

"We must work together to put our kids first, so that we can move our district forward and give all students across the city the education that they deserve," said Jean-Claude Brizard, CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

Both sides were in a different mood last month after a tentative agreement was reached on how to implement the longer school day, the main sticking point in talks.

On Wednesday, the union said there's still no agreement on pay and benefits and accused CPS of waffling on its promise to hire hundreds of new teachers for the longer day.

"Until we get some real guarantees that are in our collective bargaining agreement about how this is going to look in practice, we're not going to take the board's word that this is really better," said Jesse Sharkey, Chicago Teachers Union V.P.

"Counselors are doing lunch room and recess duty. Counselors," said Lewis.

But at Walsh elementary on the Southwest Side, which began its year round schedule last week, administrators said the longer day is being used for more math, reading, and writing instruction.

"Our teachers get the opportunity to work one on one with our students and really give them the help that they need to continue to grow," said Salvador Velasco, assistant principal, Walsh Elementary.

At Wednesday's board meeting, another principal said it's too early to judge how schools are using the extra time.

"It takes time to actually implement. But if you never give it that time, and if you never actually go ahead and take the steps to implement, then how do you even know whether it works or not?" said Nancy Hanks, principal, Melody Elementary School.

The teachers union was scheduled to hold its own meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss what is next.

Also at the school board meeting, members approved a $5.5 billion budget which brings up property taxes, meaning an additional $30 for homeowners of a $250,000 home.

CPS released the following statement Wednesday:

"Our focus is on our kids and we are putting them first. School is off to a great start this year and both teachers and students are enthusiastic to be back."

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