The Battle Before the War | Politics | Chicago Reader

The Battle Before the War 

Before the teachers' union can fight layoffs and pay cuts, it has to resolve an internal struggle.

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In the last year or so CORE has also joined forces with community groups like the Pilsen Alliance and Blocks Together to protest school closings, which, of course, cost teachers their jobs.

But in this election, Huberman's proposed cuts are the primary issue. Huberman says that without more state aid he has no choice but to fire teachers since he's already pared central office staff to the bone.

Lewis contends that at the very least Huberman should first rescind the pay increases that he and scores of other central office staffers have received (which I wrote about in an April cover story).

"We need to be honest about our budget," says Lewis. "If you're asking people to make serious sacrifices."

In the last few weeks Stewart's been trying to play catch-up by showing teachers she's willing to be just as tough with Huberman. On May 25, when CORE called for a march on City Hall, Stewart joined it—and got her supporters to show up wearing red, her campaign color. All told about 5,000 teachers marched from the Board of Education offices at 125 S. Clark Street to City Hall.

There were five candidates running for president in the May 28 election, including Lynch. Stewart, the top vote-getter, drew only 35 percent, short of the majority she needed to win. Lewis finished second with about 34 percent.

Lewis isn't calling for strikes. Instead, she wants the union to search the board's books for waste—in vendor contracts as well as central office salaries. CORE has even threatened to take on tax increment financing, Mayor Daley's chief economic development program, which siphons off tens of millions of dollars a year that would otherwise go to the schools. Jackson Potter, a member of CORE, sued CPS in Cook County Circuit Court in May because the board ignored his Freedom of Information Act request for "any information" showing how TIFs have impacted school funding.

Stewart says there's no point in scrutinizing the books—because most information that comes from the central office is misinformation or fabrication anyway. While I'd never agree it's pointless to go over those records, I can sort of see where she's coming from, having recently pored over the CPS budget for a Reader cover story, only to be told by officials that it's not accurate and that what I really should look at was the official payroll—which by the way I'd need to file a FOIA to see.

"Our labor lawyers have told us: when the board shows us their numbers, those numbers are lies," says Stewart.

Finally there's the matter of Stewart's salary. As union president, Stewart makes about $144,000 and another $68,000 in benefits. She also makes $83,000 a year as the secretary-treasurer of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the CTU's parent organization.

Lewis notes that these salaries come out of membership dues—Chicago teachers don't have to belong to the CTU but have to contribute about $930 each per year, a share of which goes to the IFT. She says she won't make more than the highest-paid teacher, which is just under $120,000 a year. "How can you criticize Huberman for making $230,000 a year during these hard times if you're making so much more than your members?" she says.

Stewart says she earns every nickel she makes because she works around the clock at the two jobs. "I don't even want to talk about my salary—it's not an issue," Stewart says. "The issue of this election is not about what I make—it's about protecting the contract. Most of our members realize that."   

Ben Joravsky discusses his reporting weekly with journalist Dave Glowacz at mrradio.org/theworks.

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