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Whatever his motivation, Emanuel stepped up the war on the union, using the nonunion charter schools as his main weapon. In last year's mayoral campaign, he insisted that the top-scoring high schools in Chicago are charters—even though no charters are in the top ten. In fact, there's no strong evidence that charters are educating children any better than regular schools.
Once elected, Emanuel appointed charter advocates and charter funders to his schools transition team and then to the board of education. He supported efforts in the state general assembly to divert more state aid from regular unionized schools to the charters. He opened up more charters. And just in case somebody out there wasn't paying attention, he started dropping by charter schools for visits and praising them for the cameras, saying it would be wonderful if all the schools could be just like them.
Meanwhile, his only official meeting with CTU president Karen Lewis was the one last August 2 when they had their infamous squabble. He wound up telling her "Fuck you, Lewis." And she told him—well, we're not sure what she told him. But I'm sure it wasn't pretty.
Then came his obsession with the longer school day.
Yes, yes, yes—all children should spend more productive time in school. But no, no, no—we shouldn't just mandate it without giving schools the resources to do something meaningful with the time, like offer classes in art, drama, music, and dance, which are not taught in most Chicago schools.
But point this out to Mayor Emanuel and you can count on him, or one of his spokespeople, to accuse you of coddling teachers or hating on kids. He went as far as to faintly criticize Mayor Daley—though not by name—for trading a longer day for labor peace in the 2003 contract negotiations. The politicians, Emanuel said, got their "labor peace," the teachers got their "pay raises," and "our children got the shaft." As if teachers were venture capitalists sending jobs to the Cayman Islands and stashing their cash in Swiss bank accounts.
I don't think teachers will ever forgive him for that one.
The mayor also had his appointed school board rescind the raise the previous board had negotiated with the union on the grounds that the system was too broke to pay it. Even though the system wasn't too broke to raise the pay of CEO Jean-Claude Brizard—and most of his central-office appointees—over what their predecessors were making. Just as their predecessors got a boost over the people before them, and so on.
In short, after Daley took away teachers' tenure, Emanuel increased their hours, cut their pay, portrayed them as money-grubbers, closed unionized schools, and opened more nonunion charters, thus depleting the union's power through attrition. And I haven't even gotten into the merit pay issue, which he's also tried to shove down their throats.
And you wonder why teachers are so angry they went on strike.
In some quarters they garner understandably little sympathy, especially among parents who are inconvenienced or students who miss out on important athletic events or crucial college deadlines, or who just need the time in school.
Still, keep this in mind before you join the rip-the-teachers chorus. Mayor Emanuel's pushing us toward a system in which all teachers—charter and union—are lower-paid, at-will employees who have about as much job protection and say in their workplace as grill-line workers in a fast-food restaurant.
Please tell me how that's good for kids.