Other priorities are crowding Chicago teachers out of the budget
Chicago public school teachers went on strike after attempts to reach an agreement with public school negotiators failed on Sunday. There are many issues at stake for Chicago, but the struggle is basically about job security and control of hiring decisions by school principals. As school reform is being further implemented in Chicago, teachers are bearing the brunt of tightening fiscal priorities. Reuters reports:
In Chicago, last-minute contract talks broke down not over pay, but over the reform agenda, both sides said Sunday. The union would not agree to Emanuel’s proposal that teacher evaluations be based in large measure on student test scores.
Nor would the union accept his push to give principals more autonomy over hiring, weakening the seniority system that has long protected veteran teachers. Already, the demographics of the teaching profession in Chicago have notably shifted, as the private managers who run charter schools tend to favor rookie teachers who are younger and far less likely to be minorities, studies have shown.
The increased emphasis on centralization and testing is costly for the school system and necessary resources are being wrestled from the teachers. The management of Chicago public schools laid out its strategy for taking funds from teacher salaries and benefits to fund more centralized administration, charter schools and testing in its 2011 financial filing:
As we look forward to the FY2013 budget cycle, we have identified numerous initiatives, such as the longer school day, common core state standards implementation and a comprehensive teacher evaluation process, which will require significant funds. In addition, we continue to invest in charter schools and turn-around actions to support our continued drive for improved school performance. These incremental appropriations will require tough decisions to find savings to offset the additional costs.
The fiscal year 2012 budget is $5.11 billion, up 4.2% from 2011. It is difficult to know what the entire 4.2% went toward. On the Chicago Public Schools website we can see the budget changes between 2010 and 2011, and teachers were being squeezed as their year over year salaries remained flat and contributions to their pension funds were slashed:
These decisions have a crowding-out effect, as resources are diverted to higher central administration costs, testing expenses and charter schools. This is the bigger story of the Chicago strike. An anonymous teacher calling themselves “Teacher X” wrote a blog post addressed to CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard to talk about the effects of these priorities:
But even more importantly, I wanted to educate Mr. Brizard about what it means to “help or hurt our kids”.
When you make me cram 30-50 kids in my classroom with no air conditioning so that temperatures hit 96 degrees, that hurts our kids.
When you lock down our schools with metal detectors and arrest brothers for play fighting in the halls, that hurts our kids.
When you take 18-25 days out of the school year for high stakes testing that is not even scientifically applicable for many of our students, that hurts our kids.
When you spend millions on your pet programs, but there’s no money for school level repairs, so the roof leaks on my students at their desks when it rains, that hurts our kids.
When you unilaterally institute a longer school day, insult us by calling it a “full school day” and then provide no implementation support, throwing our schools into chaos, that hurts our kids.
There is a lot at stake in the teacher’s strike in Chicago. The teachers are fighting for autonomy and less emphasis on standardized testing and the school administration is angling for more control. It may take a few or more years to evaluate the true outcome of this battle.