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Rahm Gets Rolled: Chicago’s Winners & Losers

By Rick Hess — September 19, 2012 4 min read
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The Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel reached a tentative agreement yesterday, and it wasn’t a good day for Rahmbo or for would-be reformers.

Today Democratic ed reformers will be cranking up their spin machines to explain why Rahm didn’t really get rolled by the CTU. (And, let’s be honest, Democrats account for about 90+ percent of both the education blob and the education reform community.) But, while they get to work spinning this thing, let’s take a look at who came out where.

Rahm Emanuel: loser- In a strike where Rahm appeared to have the upper hand, he came out with very little. The three-year deal calls for raises of 3 percent, 2 percent, and 2 percent, over and above regular step-and-lane increases (which it preserves). This will cost CPS hundreds of millions a year in new salaries by 2015. What did Rahm get in return? He basically got the teachers to comply with state law: Illinois requires that student growth account for at least 25 percent of teacher evaluation. Rahm insisted on 40 percent. They wound at 30 percent. I’m not 100% clear on what came of Rahm’s solemn proposal to extend the school day; but it looks like he’ll have to do it by hiring 600 more teachers because the current teachers refused to teach more hours, even for higher salaries. One half of these teachers must be laid-off CPS veterans. Teachers displaced because of school closures will be free to follow their students to other schools, regardless of their performance.

By yesterday, we were hearing a lot more about air-conditioning and Rahm’s bullying than we were about giving principals the authority to build a coherent faculty or the district’s declining budget. Oh, and the funny thing is--in a suit the Chicago board of education finally got around to filing on Monday--the city argued that it is now illegal for unions to collectively bargain over non-economic issues. Hmmm, you’d think Rahm might’ve raised that earlier, and been more reluctant to bargain over, you know, non-economic issues.

Karen Lewis: winner- I don’t know Karen Lewis, but now I’m very curious. The CTU entered this thing with a really weak hand. The CTU’s opening salary demand was absurdly high. Union members were all over the place when asked why they were striking. Hell, the CTU managed to lose the New York Times editorial page early last week! And yet the CTU came out in surprisingly strong shape. They gave up little that wasn’t required by the state and actually left money on the table, turning down the mayor’s proffered four-year, 16% increase in order to win on the other stuff. Then, when presented last weekend with basically the same deal that the CTU accepted yesterday, they turned it down in a fit of pique. So the CTU kept the schools closed two more days, in what amounted to a victory lap, for basically nothing. Lewis comes out of this as an icon for anti-testing, pro-LIFO teachers, finally giving them someone besides a seventy-something former academic to cheer.

Scott Walker: winner- Secretary Duncan and other “reform” Democrats blasted Wisconsin’s Republican governor for going too far (in an attempt to curry favor with the unions) when he pushed to trim state benefit costs and narrow the scope of collective bargaining in 2011. Well, guess what? Walker saved districts hundreds of millions in benefit costs (dollars they could put into schools and classrooms) and, in one fell swoop, gave districts much more autonomy than Rahm even contemplated. Right now, Walker-style GOP school reform is looking pretty good.

Reform-minded Democrats: losers- School reform Democrats have long insisted that they can get dramatic reforms without changing the rules around collective bargaining. Well, given how little Emanuel seems to have gotten in return for hundreds of millions in annual new outlays, that line seems less credible today than it did a couple weeks ago. If even Rahmbo can’t follow through on tough-minded school reforms while offering more pay in a tough economy, it raises questions about what’ll happen when less combative mayors and school boards are put to the test.

President Obama: a surprising winner- Last week, many pontificating pundits (including yours truly) noted that Chicago could put the President in a squeeze. He couldn’t afford to walk away from Rahm or the kinds of reforms he’d pushed, but he also couldn’t oppose the union. Well, Obama remained cool at the brouhaha’s start, his operatives leaned on the players to get it done, and then--just when the thing was starting to blow up--the Libyan crisis turned attention elsewhere. What could have been an election season headache turned into a non-event. Now, the tea leaves aren’t great for Race to the Top implementation, but I don’t think that’s the President’s leading concern at the moment.

Edu-pundits and NYT columnists, winners
- The strike aftermath is going to create weeks of fodder for columnists and pundits scrambling to make sense of it all. It provides a nice break from writing about Romney’s ongoing effort to ensure that he’s not stuck spending the next four years in Washington.

Steven Brill: loser- I haven’t heard Brill’s name in a while, but this whole ordeal seems to reinforce the questions he asked in his big 2011 book, Class Warfare. In that book, Brill followed a fierce union indictment with the assertion that reform would only come through a cheerful partnership between reform Dems and union leaders. Indeed, that’s when he suggested that Randi Weingarten should be NYC’s next chancellor. Well, his rosy scenario looks even less compelling in the cold light of Chicago.

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