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#ItTakesACity - Help Chicago teachers save public schools

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Sister Lewis presented the challenge to us to present ideas for an action other than striking, which would make our voice heard in protection of public education and our profession as educators.  We, as proud CTU members, ask the following questions:  What if we refuse the furlough?  What if we work anyway?  What if we refuse to stop learning and teaching?  What if we could get the entire city to support us?

We ask you to read the following letter.  If you support dissemination of this letter to the citizens of Chicago, and its message of a proposed alternative of a May 1st strike, please sign our petition.


Dear Citizens of Chicago,

Our public schools are under attack from many angles.  Our children, our school staff members and our faculties are caught in the middle.  As a professional union, we know the power a community has when united for common cause.  We understand that well-organized acts of civil disobedience can make a difference and change bad policy.  We write today to ask you to join us in our cause to fight for the right to teach your children, Chicago’s children, the young people who will grow up to be our city’s future.

CPS made the decision to furlough four days of the CPS school year.  The first furlough day has already passed. They justify this decision with financial issues.  They claim the state funding is unfair.  It is.  But unfairness cannot be overcome by more unfairness. 

CPS claims that since the furlough days only affect non-student attendance days, then this loss will not affect students.  This is untrue. The furloughed days are professional development days.  And because this loss affects the learning of teachers and staff, it directly affects our ability to do our best, which ultimately directly affects our students.  We are losing opportunities we count on to collaborate with our colleagues, acquire new skills, strengthen our current practice and plan for our courses.  Proper time to work with other colleagues is critical to our ability to develop learning experiences that develop the critical thinking skills and conceptual knowledge our young people need to succeed.  Our students’ learning is harmed by the loss of these days.

Additionally, and more obviously, these furlough days affect the income of the entire staff and faculty of our school system.  CPS teachers are hourly employees.  We get paid for 6.25 hours each day, despite how long we work.  No matter how many hours we work in a week, we are only paid for 31.25 of them.  Just like everyone else, our checks pay our bills and support our families.  We must save 25% of our income to cover all our breaks during which we do not get paid.  We also supplement our retirement because our pensions are constantly under illegal threat, and we do not have the opportunity to pay into social security.  Another little known fact, particularly important to anyone considering education as a second career, is that we are not even allowed the full payments from social security benefits we may have or will accrue from other employment before or after teaching.  How professionals are rewarded through income and benefits affects the growth of a profession.  As a society, we need to consider these facts.

Furlough days not only create professional and financial hardships, but they are also insulting.  They make human beings feel unnecessary and powerless.  So, we have been considering striking.  Strikes have worked in the past to send a message and bring much needed attention to very real funding problems.  Strikes also have an added benefit of reminding us that we are not alone.  Striking is a tool at our disposal that we know how to use.

However, striking is not our only tool.  Today we offer another proposal.  For this, we need your help.  We propose that we don’t take our furlough days.  Whether CPS wants us to or not, we propose that we still go to work.  Our buildings will be closed because CPS also does not want to pay our clerks, custodians, engineers, educational support specialists, lunch room staff or administrators.  They say they cannot pay the electricity.  But, they can’t close the parks built next to our schools.  The parks are your parks.  The parks are our parks.  There we will meet to collaborate, build, design and plan.  We will learn new skills, strengthen our current practices and create the learning experiences that will prepare our students, your children and Chicago’s future for the next stage in their own academic careers.  We will do the same thing we do every day.  We will learn and we will teach.

And, if CPS follows through on their threat to furlough the remainder of the school year on June 1st, we will show up then, too.  We will be there for your children to provide the continued structure, support and learning opportunities we know are critical to long-term success.  We will do the same thing we do every day.

But on usual days, we are supported by our clerks, custodians, education support specialists, lunch room staffs, security teams, coaches and administrators.  We can’t ask them to work without compensation, so on these furlough days we need you.  We are asking for your support.

How can you support us?  However you can.  We will need food, water, portable toilets and tents if it’s raining.  We need your smiles, your honks and your kindness.  If it comes down to a teach-in in June, we will need you to send your child with a lunch, or two or three.  Remember how many students in Chicago eat only at school.  We will need to be prepared to share.  We will need assistance watching the gates, acting as crossing guards and facilitating activities safely.  We will need you to tell your children that sometimes we don’t get graded, but we should still take the opportunity to learn.

Is this legal?  Probably not.  Will this be easy?  Definitely not.  Will this run smooth?  Maybe not.  But, with your help, we are willing to try.  We will need each community to come together to support each school.  Let’s show the world that Chicagoans are not victims.  We will not lay down and take it.  We will not do what we are told when we know it is wrong.  Together we can show the world what it takes to take care of our children and our future. 

The old African adage says, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  We say, it takes a city to raise a politician.  Together we can model for our leaders what it means to take care of a community.  Together we can do whatever it takes to have the opportunity to do our jobs.  It will take a city to make this work.  It takes a city to do what’s right. 


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