Let’s get to the outrageous first:
On Wednesday, Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, called Gov. Bruce Rauner “the new ISIS recruit.”
“You know,” she said in a speech to the City Club of Chicago, “I’ve been reading in the news lately about all of these ISIS recruits popping up all over the place. Has Homeland Security checked this man out yet? Because the things he’s doing look like acts of terror on poor and working class people.”
And, for good measure, Lewis questioned the man’s patriotism.
“If a man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar!” she said.
This is a Chicago teacher? God help our school kids.
Lewis used to teach science, not international politics, but you would hope she knows the difference between a fiscally conservative Illinois governor and savages who chop off heads.
Lewis owes Rauner an apology. She also owes the 30,000 members of her own union an apology. They are better than that, even if she is not.
Now let’s get to the merely maddening:
Lewis continued to beat the drum Wednesday for a teachers’ strike, as soon as next month, rejecting a call by Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool to submit their contract differences to binding arbitration.
Why not? asked somebody in the audience at the City Club.
“Because we can strike,” Lewis replied.
A question to all fair-minded Chicago homeowners, taxpayers, teachers and parents: Does anybody really believe that the city’s public school system — out of money, deeply in debt, losing students and flailing about academically — could withstand a prolonged teachers’ strike? Or might that be a big invitation to parents with options to pick up and leave?
Lewis continued, as well, to sell the false notion that the Chicago Public Schools’ financial problems are largely illusory, easily solved by rubbing Aladdin’s lamp — you know, just hit up rich people.
She called again for a progressive income tax, a good idea that unfortunately wouldn’t come close to solving CPS’ money problems. She called for a tax on La Salle Street trades, a bad idea that would kill the street and generate much less revenue than ballyhooed. And she called for “closing corporate loopholes” — well, sure, fine.
Here are the hard truths: CPS’ budget deficit for next year is about $1 billion. The system’s long-term debt is about $6.7 billion. CPS this year will pay nearly $700 million toward employee pensions, as required by the state. The pension system’s unfunded liability is $9.6 billion.
The only honest way to erase numbers like those is to cut costs and increase property taxes, which will require action by the Illinois Legislature and governor — and convince the Legislature to change its school aid formula to give Chicago a fairer share of state revenue.
When Lewis was asked Wednesday how she expected suburban and Republican legislators to “look favorably” upon CPS when the teachers appear so unwilling to share the pain by demanding less, she did not answer the question. She talked instead about how the union won’t “sit down and shut up.”
There is, in fact, a fair contract on the table right now, one recommended earlier this week by an independent fact-finder — and similar to a deal Lewis once called “a serious offer.” It offers net raises over four years, phases out over two years a 7 percent pension contribution that CPS now makes on members’ behalf, and reinstates raises based on teachers’ continuing education and experience — what’s known as “step and lane” increases.
Rather than march toward a strike, Lewis and her fellow CTU leaders should present that deal to the union’s rank-and-file for a vote.
And if they truly understand how real this crisis is, they’ll talk the deal up first.