Teachers Unions Debate Education Reform, Including Seniority, Layoffs, and the Right to Strike - Fox 2 News Headlines

Teachers Unions Debate Education Reform, Including Seniority, Layoffs, and the Right to Strike

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With a legislative deadline approaching, leaders of Illinois’s two biggest teachers unions vowed to fight any attempt to limit their right to strike.

Union officials said, though, that they may sign off on several other proposed changes. Those include having teacher job performance play a role in layoffs and transfers, both now largely controlled by tenure seniority rules; and having a longer school day in Chicago. The Chicago Teachers Union said it’s willing to consider restoring a mid-day, 45-minute period for lunch and recess.

“The devil’s in the details,” declared the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, Karen Lewis. “It’s not (yet) a deal.”

“We hope to conclude an agreement as soon as Tuesday,” said Ken Swanson, president of the Illinois Education Association. The IEA is the union representing most suburban and Downstate teachers. He said a meeting was scheduled in Springfield involving stakeholders who’ve been negotiating since December. State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) was expected to continue her role attempting to broker a deal that could pass the Senate by Friday. That is the deadline in the State Capitol for proposed legislation to pass in at least one chamber. Sen. Lightford did not respond to phone messages left for her Monday.

Swanson said the IEA would not agree to any restrictions on its right to strike. That is a goal of some reformers. They call teachers’ strikes a “nuclear option” so disruptive to communities that local school boards cave in rather than insist on reforms benefiting students. The power balance is further tilted by the giant political war chests wielded by the teachers unions. They contributed a whopping $4.5 million to candidates in the 2010 elections for the General Assembly.

Lewis said that it would be unfair of the General Assembly to legislate on issues that ought to be subject to collective bargaining. She noted that the Chicago Teachers Union contract will expires in 2012.

“There is plenty of time,” Lewis said, to bargain over a longer school day and longer school year. Both are goals of Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel. Some research shows a direct relationship between time on task and student learning.

The question now is whether legislative leaders will move ahead on reform proposals that the unions oppose. 

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