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CTU Strike Notebook 3: Post-Truth Props And Propaganda

"Contract negotiations between the city and striking teachers are set to resume Sunday after a long night of negotiations Saturday," the Tribune reports.

"The talks lasted about 14 hours, breaking just before midnight. Negotiations are expected to resume at 10 a.m. Sunday, a Chicago Teachers Union spokeswoman said.

"Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said Saturday the city's latest offer provides $38 million less toward contract expenses than the union is seeking in its most recent proposal."

A federal mediator said in a document leaked to the Sun-Times on Friday that the split was $71 million.

Included: "[A]n extra $32 million on top of the district's current offer to reduce class size, $10 million more to increase staffing, $19 million more toward salary hikes for veteran teachers at the top of the pay scale and low-paid paraprofessionals and another $10 million to increase stipends for athletics coaches."

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Sunday afternoon update: And now it's being reported that the gap between CPS and the CTU is $100 million.

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Presidential Prop
From a CTU e-mail to members, media and whoever else is on their e-mail list:

Today, Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle joined at least 50 striking special education teachers and their allies for a press conference at Blackhawk Park, where he signed onto a pledge to "advocate for a Chicago Teachers Union contract that protects the rights of students with disabilities."

The pledge he signed contained three key CTU contract demands that CPS and Mayor Lightfoot continued to resist at the bargaining table. The specific wording of those demands are "dedicated case managers," "reasonable workloads that allow case managers to meet the needs of students," and "protections for the legal rights of students with disabilities."

Del Valle has been a longtime supporter of the battle for equity and education justice. As a state senator, he called the 1995 legislation that stripped the rights of CTU educators to strike over class size and staffing needs the worst piece of education legislation he'd ever seen.

This is highly disingenuous, no surprise.

First, del Valle didn't agree to anything that Lightfoot is opposing at the bargaining table; he agreed to the vanilla concepts of "dedicated case managers," "reasonable workloads" and "protections for the legal rights of students with disabilities." Who could be against those things?

Second, the CTU now touts del Valle as "a longtime supporter of the battle for equity and education justice" to show how righteous he - and they - are.

But where were they when . . .

He wasn't so great then!

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The CTU is now using del Valle as a propaganda tool.

As if del Valle has had an epiphany and is now joining the picket lines.

And yet, CTU spokesperson Chris Geovanis, a dedicated and unapologetic defender of using propaganda to achieve political goals (and former Todd Stroger loyalist), writes:

"Before the CTU strike began, del Valle was the lone member of the CPS board of education to make an appearance at negotiations, telling rank-and-file CTU bargaining team members he supported everything they were fighting for."

Board members typically don't appear at negotiations, and for good reason. Del Valle's appearance, as Lightfoot's appointed board president, was an attempt to bring the CTU to reason. He found, instead, that the CTU was bargaining in bad faith.

Lightfoot, too, by the way, agrees with everything the CTU is fighting for. No one is against what CTU wants. That's a straw man of Rahmian proportions. The question is how to divide the city and CPS's resources in the best way. Honest parties can disagree with that and split the difference. Dishonest parties cannot.

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And note: The del Valle the CTU touts as a longtime, ardent supporter of public education was appointed president of the school board by Lightfoot. Think about that.

Rahm's school board presidents were David Vitale and Frank Clark, both noxious liars.

And look at the rest of Lighfoot's board. It's a CTU wet dream (and rightly so!). Now tell me she's Rahm 2.0.

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Again: In 2011, when Rahm Emanuel ran for mayor his first time (and won, of course), the CTU didn't endorse because its membership (or its leadership) coudn't decided between del Valle and Carol Moseley-Braun.

Lake Shore Drive-By
Lightfoot saved the CTU from themselves:

"The rally comes a day after hundreds of teachers and supporters gathered around Buckingham Fountain and marched to the Thompson Center after unsuccessfully trying to shut down Lake Shore Drive. Dozens of Chicago police officers on bicycles blocked the protesters from entering the highway," the Tribune reported.

CTU strikers shutting down Lake Shore Drive is one of the worst ideas I've heard in a long time. A surefire way to lose support.

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I saw a tweet from a striker suspecting that the police had set the Lake Shore Drive lights there to stay on green to prevent folks from crossing. If true, clever!

10 Months Of Propaganda
When you hear people repeating talking points without knowing what they're talking about, you see up close how propaganda works. I can't tell you how many times I've heard - or seen tweeted - this one.

"[Lightfoot] had 10 months to get this fucking thing worked out," a high school teacher said the other day at a local bar I was at.

That's the line the CTU has been feeding them - and the public - despite the very obvious fact that Lightfoot became mayor five months ago and appointed her school board four months ago.

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The only party that's been at it for 10 months is the CTU. Forgive me if that's where I see a yawning credibility gap.

It's like all those signs demanding a nurse in every school. CPS is offering exactly that. It makes one start to wonder if it really is all about money, under cover of being about everything else that's unassailably awesome.

Post-Truth
"[C]laims about money get muddy. Numbers show both sides have valid claims, as CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported Tuesday."

But all the examples Kozlov cites shows the CTU in the wrong! The only valid claims in the report are from City Hall/CPS.

For instance, a CTU representative said CPS is now getting more money from the state - about $1.7 billion next year, according to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. The CTU said most of that should go to schools.

But a CPS official said only about $60 billion of it is actually new money, which is indeed going to schools and teachers and staff.

This CTU claim has been debunked repeatedly, by the way.

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"The union says CPS should refinance its debt, reducing high interest fees. A CPS official said it is refinancing debt when possible - most recently in September when it saved $20 million. But refinancing is limited because of CPS' junk bond status."

Yup.

CPS has junk bond status, okay? It's not like they have secret piles of money laying around, even if they aren't spending the money they do have exactly the way you'd like and they have bad contracts with companies like Aramark and people like Barbara Byrd-Bennett were screwing children by enriching themselves. The problem is even bigger than all that!

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"CTU leaders say schools should be getting way more than the $21.3 million they most recently received in Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, surplus money.

"Tax increment financing involves freezing property tax dollars for schools, parks, and other taxing districts in a given zone for at least 23 years, so that all property tax increases afterward go into a separate fund. The funds are intended to bankroll improvements in struggling city neighborhoods, but published reports point out that there has been a surplus in TIF funding in recent years and much of it has gone to CPS.

"But as to schools getting more, a CPS representative said that is out of the Chicago School Board's control."

It is, however, within Lightfoot's control - to a point. To that end, the mayor has declared the largest TIF surplus in history (the city's, but maybe even the world's!) and is sending just over half that money to CPS.

But a reminder, something which can't be said enough: The city can't just take back the $1.2 billion in TIF subsidies it has awarded the Lincoln Yards developers and spend the money on schools instead. This might be the most repeatedly ignorant take of the strike. That's because the $1.2 billion doesn't exist yet. The city didn't just write a check to Lincoln Yards. That $1.2 billion is money that will (theoretically) accrue over the 23-year term of the TIF in the form of increased tax revenues from the economic development the project will (theoretically) create. The problem as far as the schools go is that that money will be directed back into the TIF district - where some of it could be spent on schools there, though probably only on the physical plants - instead of going into the general fund for the city to spend wherever it chooses. Additionally, the share of property tax dollars the schools get from the district will be frozen at its current rate - though, as I understand it, more money will go to schools because the rate will have more dollars to tax.

Anyway, back to the CBS2 report:

"A CPS representative said more than $700 million a year still goes to pensions. He says those dollars are earmarked for that purpose, and it still doesn't meet the district's total pension obligation."

And there you have it.

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Here, similarly is Greg Hinz, whom I usually am not sympatico with, for Crain's:

"As for the teacher talks, the most remarkable thing to me is that the Chicago Teachers Union continues to insist on its own set of facts, using math in, what, base 6?

"The first example is its continuing instance that CPS got $1 billion in new money from the state for classroom needs. Wrong. It got some money, but a good two-thirds of that money was to pay old pension debt, and most of it came from a Chicago property tax hike - the very levy that was too toxic for Lightfoot to touch.

"Example two is CTU's continuing instance that tax-increment financing pots, notably the $1.2 billion in subsidies allotted for the proposed Lincoln Yards megaplex, can be raided for school usage. Wrong - and for a simple reason: The money doesn't exist yet. It won't exist until Lincoln Yards is up and running and produces $1.2 billion in new property taxes, years and years from now.

"The union would be better off trying to tap existing TIF districts with real money in the bank. But Lightfoot already does just that in her budget, declaring a $300 million TIF surplus, of which $163 million by law goes to CPS. CTU gripes that Lightfoot is clawing some of that back, such as $60 million for pensions for school workers who belong to a city retirement account."

Facts are facts, and I prefer to go where they lead me instead of living in the kind of ideological fort that so many find comforting because, I suppose, it means the world works in a pre-existing sort of philosophical and orderly way instead of working only according to the laws of physics and however we choose to conduct ourselves.

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If you find yourself only agreeing with a particular "side" in politics all the time, you are part of the problem. And that's not in any way a plea to, say, "Try to understand the Trump people" or a "both-sides" proposition. I understand the Trump people because I believe what they say: They are racist hypocrites who don't give a single fuck about democracy.

And both-sidesism is a horrible affront to truth, because there are often more than two sides - and sometimes just one that is supported by the facts. It's also true that often in political conflicts one side dishes out far more bullshit than the other side. This is one of those times, and when a breakdown in credibility jibes with my own reporting and the triangulation of everyone else's reporting, I feel like I'm on the right track.

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I have not received a single factual critique to anything I've written. I've received personal attacks and ignorant nonsense, but not a single, fact-based challenge. Also, again, I'm not just making shit up out of my head; I do reporting too. The answers aren't to be found just relaying what officials say in front of the cameras at the end of each day.

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Also, I'm not defending Lightfoot, City Hall or CPS. That's a misunderstanding of my position. I'm defending the facts, and the truth as is uncoverable through reporting. If Rahm Emanuel was the only one telling the truth in a particular situation, I'd be forced to "defend" at least the truth that he was telling. (Fortunately, I'll never have to worry about that because it's never happened and I can't foresee it happening in the future.)

It's reminiscent to me of the blindness of Obamabots who absolutely refused to believe that perhaps the reported truth showed he wasn't the person they thought he was. Now, of course, everyone has written their "disappointment in Obama" pieces. You were only disappointed if you believed the bullshit in the first place. Otherwise you were just exasperated at how right the facts actually were. That's why they're called facts!

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"Now you're really gonna be friendless!" an educator pal told me this week.

I'm used to it. More journalists should be.

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Someone once asked me if I wanted John McCain to win the 2008 election, and I said, "Of course not." He then asked why I was doing work that "helped" McCain and not Obama. I said that my job - and the job of all journalists - wasn't to defend or support a particular candidate, but to defend and support the truth. Everything has to flow from that. My job isn't to cover for someone because of my own preferences - and the ultimate preference for all of us should be in favor of the truth.

That doesn't mean I don't have preferences. My preference in the last mayoral race was clearly Lightfoot. But that never stopped me from telling the truth about her, and it's not stopping me now.

It just so happens that the bullshit right now is coming in heaping waves of steaming poo from the other side.

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To the teachers out there:

I was at a local establishment the other day when about 40 of you came in after, presumably, picket line duty. I wanted to hug each and every one of you. I just believe that you've been led down the wrong road, and I hate to say it but in my interactions, the teachers and activists and union members I've spoken to and had social media exchanges with largely haven't known fuck-all about the issues at hand and, particularly, the city's offer.

That's not a rip on teachers; the same thing applies to the population as a whole, let's call it "the public," which rarely is well-informed on the issues they nonetheless take zealous stands on. It's a big problem in a democracy, for which political science has yet to find a cure. And journalism can only do so much.

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You know what could help? Education! Media literacy, critical thinking and so on. Maybe use this strike as a case study - examine the claims made by all parties and see what you come up with!

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P.S.: I'm for everything the teachers want. Who isn't?

Schools Should Be Palaces
Well, maybe not quite. Schools should be places where kids can write on the walls in crayon - and later, Sharpies and spray paint. But . . .

The question is, how do we get there?

We finally have a mayor and a school board who believe. Now, the CTU, which still believes the mayor is "a cop," is in the way.

CTU's employment contract isn't the only vehicle for social justice and equity in the city. The city has its own budgets for homelessness, mental health services, affordable housing - all the things the CTU says it is bargaining "for the common good." But maybe a better approach is to engage with city departments and the city council and everybody else on those issues separately to always integrate schools into the conversation (the CTU says it does this very thing; not very well, apparently). Maybe this is an unprecedented opportunity to build allyship, particularly with a friendly school board. CTU's employment contract isn't the end-all, be-all.

Sadly, the CTU has been hostile to Lightfoot from day one; it's like the campaign never stopped. And to think their candidate partied with Ed Burke and would've kept Carrie Austin as the city council's budget chair. And perhaps would've offered the union less, counting on their shared interest in making her mayoralty a success.

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When writers in town accuse the CTU leadership of striking at least in part out of campaign bitterness and a bid to re-attain relevance, that isn't to say that teachers too are striking for that reason. Some are, some aren't. Be as suspect about your union leaders as you are about city leaders.

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In its e-mails to members, the CTU is hitting hard on the theme that progress in negotiations have come only because of the strike. You can believe that if you want, but that doesn't make it true.

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P.S.: I'm pro-labor. Also, the city isn't a corporation. Also, CPS has been fucked-up for decades, if not forever. The state, as I understand it, continues to fail to meet its constitutional duty to supply 50 percent of public school funding. Political hacks - from the Machine, now led by the CTU's preferred mayoral candidate - have created the situation we are in. CPS should be fully-funded first, with everything else to follow. The city budget should fund services for the neediest first, and then for everyone else. The wealthy should absolutely pay more - but pointing out how rich "the city" is in defense of the argument that "the money is there" doesn't help, because "the city" is not "the City." I've long been in favor of "turning the budget upside down." But it takes a helluva lot more than an employment contract to do that, and in fact, biting off a piece for yourself without regard for the big picture doesn't help.

The whole discussion is just dishonest as hell.

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"But the CTU's job isn't to see the big picture, it's to advocate zealously for its membership!"

Then don't tell me you're bargaining for the common good.

Rich White Men
You might remember this from CTU Notebook 1:

"Rich white men tell black women with children in the Chicago Public Schools what to do all the time," Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said.

Jesse Sharkey is a very rich white man - he married into the Royal Caribbean Cruise fortune.

Now, I happen to believe Sharkey is exactly what we should want out of our wealthy people - class traitors! (And as I understand it, Sharkey himself grew up working class). The last thing we need is more 1%-ers complaining about their taxes and fleeing from public institutions. Go Jesse! Redistribute your wealth!

But Gates's rhetoric is galling when you consider that the mayor is an African-American lesbian (intersectionality!) in a mixed marriage with a child, the school superintendent is an African-American woman, and the school board president is Puerto Rican. All the rich white men in this scenario are leading the CTU!

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And again, look at this school board.

The fact is that everyone, for once, is on the same side here, but the CTU has utterly refused to move on from its hostile, disingenuous campaign stance and has thrust its members into full conflict mode. Just consider that this strike has now lasted longer than the 2012 strike against Rahm Emanuel - who, unlike Lightfoot, was diametrically opposed to everything CTU stood for. How in the world could that be?

Take the win and get the kids back in school.

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Previously:

* CTU Strike Notebook 1: Everyone Is Bullshitting You.

* CTU Strike Notebook 2: Media Misframing.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on October 27, 2019


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