Before setting in motion a strike, several steps must be taken before it can be called. Both CTU and CPS confirmed Monday, April 16 that they have agreed to the appointment of a fact-finding panel to review the offers of both sides. The three-member panel will have until July 15 to issue its recommendations The Chicago Tribune reported.
The current CTU leaders—elected in 2010—have offered their own reform plan.
“It’s the first time I’ve heard of this union coming up with a plan so comprehensive and holistic,” CTU vice-president Jesse Sharkey said. “One goal is to be seen as people who also care about good schools. But it’s also because we’re thinking about the contract talks in broad terms–what kind of schools we want.”
CPS is insisting drastic changes in the contract, many of them designed to implement and expand legislative and administrative changes that political leaders knew would conflict with the contract of the 25,000 teachers and support staff of the CTU.
The union’s plan includes smaller class sizes (which education research shows is most valuable for poor, disadvantaged students); an enriched curriculum (40 percent of Chicago schools have no more than part-time instruction in either art or music, according to CTU); more counseling and support services; teacher mentoring, support and professional development; and reduced paperwork and standardized testing (potentially saving $100 million a year, not counting teacher time diverted to test preparation, the union estimates) reported In These Times.
“We see that work will be harder next year,” Sharkey says. “We’re asking for a pretty healthy raise.”
State law now requires a fact-finding review with an arbitrator that is now underway, followed by a cooling-off period if that produces no agreement. And the law requires 75 percent of teachers to vote approval before a strike can be called.
State legislation passed last year forces a number of steps that make it more difficult for teachers to strike. After the panel issues its recommendations, both parties have 15 days to accept them which is addressed on CTU’s web site. If they’re rejected, the panel can publish the recommendations. After that, the union still can’t strike for another 30 days.
Right now, neither side has moved from their initial offers, officials said.
From preliminary surveys, the union seems confident members are ready to strike if needed, and CTU president Karen Lewis has recently sounded more resigned to that necessity reported The Chicago Tribune.
Lewis said teachers want to be in the classroom next fall, but “it is imperative that we are all prepared.”
The panel that will take up the facts of the case will include Sharkey, CPS deputy general counsel Joseph Moriarty and arbitrator Edwin Benn. Ultimately, the arbitrator will make the recommendations in a final report.
“While we are prepared to enter this phase of discussions, we were hopeful that the union would spend more time working in collaboration with us to reach an agreement on behalf of our students, teachers and taxpayers,” said CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll.
The union’s current contract expires June 30. The district has projected a $600 million to $700 million budget shortfall in the coming year.