New Film Skewers Chicago Teachers Union, Explains Stakes of Contract Negotiations

CHICAGO – The new documentary film is called “A Tale of Two Missions,” and it’s focused on current conditions in Chicago Public Schools.

One “mission” is led by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is working hard to provide fresh opportunities for kids stuck in failing city schools.

The other is led by Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, who is determined to kill the expansion of school choice in the city, so her union can keep students (and the tax money attached to them) trapped in subpar neighborhood schools.

And now, just as the documentary is released to the public, Emanuel, Lewis and their respective teams have started negotiating a new labor contract that will go a long way toward determining the future of Chicago Public Schools.

The current teachers union contract expires June 30. Negotiations on a new pact are expected to take months, perhaps even beyond the expiration date of the current contract.

Lewis had made it clear that teachers want higher salaries and more expensive benefits, despite the district’s estimated $720 million budget deficit and the continued threat of layoffs for young teachers and cancellation of student programs.

Emanuel is dedicated to holding down costs and using limited resources to provide better school options for underserved students.

In short, the mayor of Chicago is on a mission to improve education in Chicago. The union is on selfish mission to preserve a failed system that provides a guaranteed income for thousands of teachers and a steady flow of dues money to the CTU.

A better future for one of the nation’s worst public school systems is hanging in the balance.

Documentary sets the scene in Chicago

To gain a good understanding of the state of affairs in Chicago Public Schools, take a few minutes and watch ” A Tale of Two Missions,” narrated by former National Public Radio and current Fox News analyst Juan Williams.

Williams talks about a city that has invested heavily in charter schools in recent years, due to the persistent failure of union-dominated traditional public schools.

“Some argue that the solution is simple – just spend more money (on traditional schools),” Williams says in the film. “But others are convinced that continuing to chase good money after bad cannot continue.

“When parents are allowed to choose, schools will have the incentive to compete. And competition breeds flexibility, adaptability and innovation. But school choice also poses a significant threat to the status quo, and no single entity profits more from the status quo than teachers unions.

“They fight and resist education reform however and whenever it is found.”

Williams focuses on the success of one charter school, Noble Street College Prep, which spends less per student than CPS and boasts a graduation rate of 99 percent, compared to CPS’s woeful 56 percent.

The Noble Street school has a non-union workforce, which allows it to control labor costs and pursue groundbreaking education strategies without the permission of union bosses.

The school’s environment is focused on success. It has a much longer school day than traditional Chicago schools. It has a strict dress and conduct code. It’s curriculum is focused on college preparation and acceptance.

The school is currently at full capacity with 6,500 students, and has a long waiting list of parents who want their children enrolled.

“Noble has the most successful high school I have ever seen,” Mayor Emanuel tells Williams in the film. “They’re not just doing their job. They’re on a mission.”

The documentary addresses the teacher union’s effort to fight the mayor’s plan to add 10 new quality charter schools like Noble. Williams points to a massive rally last October in the streets of Chicago, where Lewis and her cronies tried to paint education reformers as profiteers intent on ripping off the state education budget.

The true source of their anger is greed. The more students who attend charter schools, the less state aid for traditional schools. The less state aid for traditional schools, the less money that’s available for teachers and their unions.

They are the defenders of the failed status quo, because it works to their financial advantage.

How well it works for the children of the city is not their concern.

“This is a tale of two cultures,” Williams says in the film. “One is interested in maintaining its power and influence, while the other is intent on preparing children for life. One is interested in maintaining the mechanics of collective bargaining and union contracts, while the other is intent on graduating every single student.

“This is the story of a Chicago miracle and the people who would kill it.”

CTU, mayor on a contract collision course

Contract negotiations between the city and the teachers union are scheduled to begin this week.

Lewis tipped her hand about her negotiation objectives at a recent press conference.

“We can share with you the fact that we will be advocating for the practices, support and resources which all of our schools, including our neighborhood schools, need and which our students deserve.”

Translation – more money for teachers. Lewis’ press conference resulted in a very honest headline posted on the CBS Chicago website: “CPS Teachers Want Pay Hikes, More Benefits.”

How that would somehow benefit students, we have no idea.

We were encouraged by a response from CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll, who issued a statement saying, “Our students have been shortchanged by this system for too long, and their academic needs must come first. Our goal is to negotiate a contact that treats our teachers fairly and as professionals, but also one that is negotiated in the best interest of our students, parents and taxpayers during these difficult financial times.”

If the mayor’s short track record is any indication, he will stand his ground at the bargaining table. In less than a year in office, he has cancelled a scheduled 4 percent raise for teachers, called for a merit pay system that would funnel more money to the most effective teachers, and announced the implementation of a longer academic day for all schools starting next fall.

He has called for the closing of several failing schools, a turnaround program for other schools that includes the replacement of staff, and the opening of 10 new charter schools to give students an escape route from failing schools.

We believe Mayor Emanuel is ready to fight the union on behalf of the city’s children.

Unfortunately the public will not be able to watch the negotiations unfold. Lewis has made it clear that the union plans to make its demands during closed negotiations, keeping citizens in the dark until a new agreement is hammered out.

By that time it will be too late for the people to have any useful input.

We admonish the mayor to let taxpayers know what the union wants and how much it would cost, both in terms of money and quality education.

Such a tactic may anger the union, and result in a charge of “bargaining in bad faith.” But it’s more important for Emanuel to keep faith with the taxpayers who fund the schools than the union bosses who bleed them dry.