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Published in Print: February 19, 2003, as Bill Would Restore Clout To Chicago Teachers

Bill Would Restore Clout To Chicago Teachers

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Chicago teachers would get back some of the collective bargaining clout they lost eight years ago, and the number of charter schools in the city could double, under legislation that has been overwhelmingly approved by the Illinois Senate.

The bill would seal a labor-management deal to give Chicago union leaders a greater say in how district policies affect the rank and file, while raising the cap on charter schools in the city from 15 to 30.

As part of a compromise hammered out between the district and the Chicago Teachers Union, the legislation also would place new restrictions on those independent public schools, subjecting them to added rules on teacher certification, testing, and other matters.

"It's a typical compromise," observed John Ayers, the executive director of the Chicago-based Leadership for Quality Education, a business-backed group focusing on school improvement. "There's a lot of stuff for people to love and hate on both sides of the aisle."

Designed to have at least limited appeal to both Democrats and Republicans, the bill would ease constraints on union bargaining imposed by 1995 legislation that gave the mayor full control of the 437,000-student school system.

The measure has been described by some critics as a sop to the unions that could choke the Illinois charter movement and gum up labor-management relations. But it is being hailed by some charter supporters, such as Mr. Ayers' group, as well as district and union leaders in Chicago, who agreed to its outlines last September at the prodding of Mayor Richard M. Daley. ("Chicago Union, Board Seek Right to Negotiate," Sept. 18, 2002.)

Both sides are eager for the agreement to clear the legislature as they prepare to negotiate a teacher contract to replace the four-year pact that expires June 30.

Despite tough budget times, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, Deborah Lynch, is vowing to deliver raises greater than the current contract's first-year raise of 3 percent and subsequent 2 percent increases.

"Our members expect us to come back to them with a decent contract, and they deserve the best we can get," Ms. Lynch said last week. "We need this bill to pass and these rights restored before negotiating with the board on our next contract."

Back to Bargaining

Virtually identical legislation passed the Democratic-dominated state House of Representatives last year but got stuck in the Senate, primarily because of opposition from that chamber's Republican leadership.

Control of the Senate switched to the Democrats last month, however, and newly named Senate President Emil Jones Jr. sponsored the resurrected bill, which passed the full Senate 55-0 on Feb. 6. The measure is expected to fare well again in the House, where Democrats retained their majority.

The 1995 reform law barred Chicago's mayorally appointed school board from bargaining with its unions on such subjects as charter schools, privatization, layoffs, class staffing, staff assignments, class schedules, academic calendar, hours and places of instruction, pupil assessment, and "experimental pilot programs."

Under this year's bill, all those issues except charter schools would become "permissive" subjects for bargaining, meaning the district could choose to negotiate over them. But system leaders would be required to negotiate over the impact of any of those policies on staff members.

The district could decide unilaterally to lay off union members, for example, but would have to bargain on the details of how those layoffs would occur.

Calling the bill "critically important as we enter contract negotiations with the unions," Chicago school board President Michael Scott said it "allows management to move reform forward while giving the unions more of an opportunity to participate in the process."

The proposed new charter school rules are being panned, meanwhile, by some national charter advocates, including the Washington-based Center for Education Reform. But local advocates such as Mr. Ayers said the concessions were a price worth paying to open up more charter slots.

Under the bill, existing charter schools in Chicago would be required to have 75 percent of their teachers fully certified by 2006, while new ones would have to have half their teachers certified by that point.

Charter schools would have to give the same standardized tests as regular Chicago public schools, would be limited to a single campus, and could not hire for-profit management companies until the end of the 2004-05 school year. The new restrictions would not affect Illinois charters outside Chicago.

Given the long waiting lists at many Chicago charter schools, Arne Duncan, the district's chief executive officer, is looking forward to increasing the number of charters issued by the district board, spokeswoman Joi M. Mecks said last week.

"This cap has put a stranglehold on our ability to expand our charter program," she said. "We are really excited about this."

Vol. 22, Issue 23, Pages 6-7

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