We’re days away from a possible teachers’ strike in Chicago, but Kate Grossman, Deputy Editor of the Sun-Times Editorial page, remains optimistic that a strike will be averted at the last minute.
“A fair contract is still doable without a strike.” her editorial page had stated a couple of days ago. Does she still believe that? “There’s a handful of issues,” she says. “It’s pay. It’s recall for teachers whose schools closed for low enrollment or poor performance, it’s the teacher evaluation. These are not that hard, really.”
But she acknowledges that this past year has been difficult for the teachers. “I have talked to umpteen teachers who just feel beleaguered, disrespected, overwhelmed, but a lot of those issues cannot be resolved in the contract”, she explains.
NPR/Chicago correspondent David Schaper also exprsses some optimism that things will be resolved in the end. But, he says, at this point it’s still all about posturing.
“Nobody wants to reveal too much of their hand – what they ’re willing to give in these final days and hours of negotiations,” He says. “I think that one of the things the teachers want to do is move this away from just a conversation about money. And being portrayed as just wanting more money. And make this a bigger issue about conditions in the classroom and how they do their job – and how well they do their job.”
One of the big pay issues that might still be on the table is so-called “step increases” which provide a guaranteed salary bump for some number of years after a teacher is initially hired. And as Grossman points out, it’s a thorny issue.
“There’s pretty clear evidence in teaching that on average the fifth-year teacher is better than the first-year teacher,” she says. “But is the tenth-year teacher really better than the fifth-year teacher? Or the thirteen-year teacher? And that’s where it kind of rubs up against your basic notions of fairness, right? And also, some people hang on to the job, because they know their gonna get (the benefit) and do you really want a hanger-on in your daughter’s classroom?”
But Schaper points out that school districts also benefit from step increases in some cases.
“School districts as a whole have a very difficult time retaining teachers after that three to five-year mark. There’s enormous turnover – forty to fifty percent within the first five years,” he says.
Also in the discussion: Could a strike actually benefit Emanuel politically? And some admiration for Karen Lewis, who our guests say has installed very strong leadership at the top and his imposed a level of respectful discipline (unanimous votes, etc.) not seen in a generation.