Chicago Reform Advocates Assail Teacher Contract

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A tentative contract agreement for Chicago teachers came under immediate fire last week from Illinois politicians and Chicago school-reform advocates who complained that teachers did not agree to enough concessions and that it would undercut principals and school-governance councils.

The two-year pact, announced Oct. 9 after an all-night bargaining session, is the first step toward balancing the district's budget. The school board is also waiting for the state legislature to approve a $276 million borrowing plan.

In the meantime, the federal judge who has been keeping Chicago schools open has indicated that he would continue to do so until the budget crisis is resolved.

But Michael Madigan, the Speaker of the Illinois House, last week adjourned the Democrat-controlled House for two weeks without first addressing the borrowing plan. Legislators are scheduled to return Oct. 26.

Mr. Madigan said he wanted to give members of the Chicago Teachers Union time to ratify the contract agreement before taking legislative action, but the move also was seen as a recognition that the Speaker does not have the votes necessary to pass a Chicago package.

The Republican-controlled Senate, which has pressed for union concessions and work-rule changes in exchange for support for the borrowing plan, is also balking. Mark Gordon, the spokesman for James (Pate) Philip, the president of the Senate, said last week that the agreement was "seriously deficient in reform.''

While the legislature does not have to ratify the contract, lawmakers must approve some provisions in it and can alter the agreement. A supermajority of votes in both houses is required to pass the package.

Gov. Jim Edgar told reporters that he was "stunned'' by Mr. Madigan's action and was "not sure what it will take to get the necessary votes.''

Advocates Unimpressed

As politicians wrangled over the contract, school-reform advocates were also scrutinizing the deal.

"The best thing I say about it is that it keeps schools open and doesn't severely cut into state [compensatory-education] funds,'' said Donald R. Moore, the executive director of Designs for Change, a research and advocacy group.

The two-year contract would freeze cost-of-living pay increases, but about 40 percent of Chicago's teachers would still get raises by advancing on the salary schedule. And next year, teachers would be paid for five extra professional-development days.

New teachers would not be eligible for bonuses for extra coursework, but those who are already enrolled in programs would continue to be paid.

Teachers would also contribute about 1.5 percent of their salaries to offset their health-care costs.

High school class periods would be longer, but the board agreed to reduce class sizes at the semester break.

The union also agreed to allow the board of education to borrow $110 million from the teachers' pension fund over two years, provided it is paid back with interest.

The issue of what to do about teachers who lose their posts because of program changes or declining enrollment--called "reserve teachers''--was one of the most contentious bargaining issues. The board of education had sought to terminate them after 90 days.

Many Chicagoans had also called for increasing principals' authority to manage their school staffs.

However, reform advocates said the tentative contract agreement would strengthen reserve teachers' claims on new jobs in other schools and would undermine principals' ability to select their staffs.

"This will virtually insure that these teachers get placed in schools where principals don't want them,'' Mr. Moore said.

Jackie Gallagher, the spokeswoman for the teachers' union, said the agreement gives reserve teachers a chance to be retrained in another subject but would, for the first time, provide for eventual termination.

Undermining Authority?

"The bottom line is that there will be a cutoff point,'' she said, "and that was never the case before.''

Ms. Gallagher said the agreement also included "some movement'' on allowing principals to choose assistant principals and lead teachers. But reform advocates said the agreement did not go far enough.

They also criticized a provision that would give the general superintendent, and not district councils, the power to evaluate subdistrict superintendents.

The new agreement would also allow principals to spend up to $10,000 without the approval of the board of education. They would have to seek approval from a nonelected committee of teachers, rather than the elected local school council.

"This undermines the L.S.C.'s, totally,'' said Diana Lauber, the program director for Leadership for Quality Education, a business-oriented reform group. "There was nobody in these negotiations looking out for classrooms, in terms of kids, and for the local school councils.''

Such changes, however, must be approved by state lawmakers.

The board of education had asked the union to make $81 million in concessions in each year of the contract. Ms. Lauber's group estimates that the board saved $44 million the first year and only $11 million in the second year.

David C. Rudd, the board's spokesman, said that while negotiators did not achieve all their goals, they were "satisfied.''

Teachers are scheduled to vote on whether to ratify the contract on Oct. 21, the same day elections for representatives to local school councils will be held.

More than 7,400 candidates are running for seats. But 206 of the city's 548 schools do not have enough parent candidates for contested elections, according to Designs for Change.

Vol. 13, Issue 07

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