By Steve Gunn
CHICAGO – Chicago school officials have not learned their lesson about caving in to the teachers union.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel demanded longer school days, and ended up having to call back hundreds of laid-off teachers to absorb the extra work. The cash-strapped district tried to hold the line on teacher raises, and ended up handing out a 16 percent raise after the September teacher strike.
Now the district wants to make the logical move of closing 140 schools next year that are less than half full to eliminate 100,000 empty seats across the district. Of course the Chicago Teachers Union opposes that plan because it would cost some teachers their jobs and cost the union a lot of dues revenue.
The school district is required to provide the state a tentative list of schools to be closed next year by Dec. 1. Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has requested an extension of that deadline until March 31. In return she offered a five-year moratorium on any further school closings.
Byrd-Bennett obviously hopes to satisfy the union and angry parents with the offer. But the CTU and its friends were not impressed.
“It sounds as if the mayor is saying, ‘I promise to stop beating you after I get in this last round of punches,’” a parent group that’s aligned with the union said in a statement posted on its website.
The Chicago Tribune was also cynical about Byrd-Bennett’s offer, for different reasons. The newspaper knows the CEO is offering a deal she may not be able to keep.
“This is going to be a rough process,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial. “CPS won’t help ease that by delaying the announcement of which schools are likely to close. Nor can the system realistically promise a five-year freeze on closing more schools. The school board has to have the flexibility to make future decisions based on its finances and its student population.
“CPS knows which schools have empty classrooms and are too expensive to operate. It knows which schools are prime candidates to be shut. Keeping this news quiet until March 31 doesn’t create trust or transparency. It breeds skepticism, suspicion and more anxiety.”
Those are all good points, and we would like to add one of our own.
Chicago school officials continue to dig their own hole by quaking and compromising every time the CTU objects to a plan. By doing so they are only encouraging the beast. Union officials have learned that if they whine and cry loudly enough, the district will back down and propose something more acceptable.
But what’s acceptable to the union is almost never good for Chicago Public Schools. If the district is ever going to improve academically or erase its $1 billion deficit, it must tame the CTU and put it in its place. Offering pathetic compromises every time the union squawks is not going to accomplish that very necessary goal.