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Teachers Play A Mean Game of 'Would You Rather?'

Last year during a staff professional development, we played a fun little game called Would You Rather? A moderator asked a series of ridiculous questions and the staff had to choose between two distasteful options, indicating our choice by moving to either side of the room. Let's play a few rounds!

Would you rather ...

Live without floss OR a toothbrush?

Live without soap OR toilet paper?

Live in a house with mice OR roaches?

The game was hilarious and disgusting. It broke the ice, getting unlikely personalities to talk to each other. But lately I've been feeling like public school teachers have been asked to play the same game, but the options are real, dangerous, even sinister. Instead of getting sides to talk to each other, this game of Would You Rather? is isolating us and forming armies.

Take what's happening in Chicago as a prime example. After rushed passage of Race To The Top-inspired reform laws in 2010, Illinois fails to win the $400 million federal grant. This raises early concerns about how the state would pay for the expensive reform measures. Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis balks at the validity and need for extending the school day in 2011, the year before the new law becomes active. In addition, the district cancels the 4 percent raise promised to teachers in their union contract, but then gives bonuses to teachers and schools who would agree to break from the union to extend their school day a year earlier.

Now it's time to negotiate a new teachers contract and the amount of bad blood could fill a swimming pool. After contract negotiations reach a stalemate, the district and union agree to allow an independent fact-finder to define what a fair teachers' contract looks like. The arbitrator, Edwin Benn, states in a report that the 25,000 Chicago teachers are owed a 15-20 percent raise in the first year of their 19.4 percent longer day—and a total of up to a 35 percent raise over two years.

In a district that has heavily slashed central office jobs and raised property taxes to its max, Chicago Public Schools still has a $665 million dollar budget hole. CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard releases a $5.73 billion school budget that includes a 2 percent raise for teachers in 2012-13 school year. Yesterday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel states that the abitrator's figures are not based in the city's dire fiscal reality.

So now Chicago teachers are left to play a real-life, high stakes game.

Would you rather ...

Accept large pay raises with massive layoffs OR a miniature raise with job security?

Have, say, forty-five students in your class OR a funded pension?

Concede that the district is nearly bankrupt and cannot meet union demands OR strike in hopes that the city will make available an alternate revenue stream?

Of course the union will argue that it is concerned about the quality of education, not just salaries. They are also pushing for robust art, music, library, and language programs—important issues that further complicate the union contract's economic impact on the district.

WouldYouFinal03.jpgLast month, 90 percent of union members vote to authorize a strike if summer contract negotiations reach an impasse. Today, both CPS and the CTU are expected to reject the arbitrator's report. If or when they do, they will have a 30-day window to continue negotiations before teachers can legally strike, affecting more than 400,000 students and their families.

But let's not say the S-word too soon. Chicago Public Schools hasn't seen a teacher walkout in 25 years.

Would YOU rather ...

Strike or Not Strike?

Art by Lindsay Johnson, added on 8/7/12

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