Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is stuck between a rock in a hard place. On his left are striking teachers, angered over benefits and evaluation programs. On his right are taxpayers and parents concerned about their schools and their tax money. What’s a man to do?
Sizing up the situation is a good place to start. The teacher strike, which began yesterday, is the largest in 25 years – 29,000 teachers have left work at about 700 schools, leaving 350,000 students adrift Monday through Friday, 7 to 4. The Chicago school district is the third largest in the country, and the members of the Chicago’s teachers union already make an average salary of $76,000 per year. That is, of course, without the guaranteed 16% annual percent raise the teachers were offered by the city as part of negotiations.
Since the average Chicago resident earns $33,221 per year and doesn’t have a built-in raise, it’s not surprising to find that some parents are more than a little miffed.
The burden of the strike falls hardest on working class families. Households with two working parents can’t afford to sacrifice a breadwinner to stay home with the kids. But the other option – leaving the kids home alone – could be worse. Chicago isn’t a super-safe city. Recently, it’s seen a surge in violent crime – 250 killed through June alone.
What makes the injustice of the situation more painful is this proclamation by union boss Karen Lewis:
“This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further, there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests…”
Essentially, Ms. Lewis whines, the strike is about getting paid fairly for an impossible-to-verify job well done.
How fair is it for teachers to ask for more money and less accountability from taxpayers while at the same time making them skip work to watch their kids? More importantly, how fair is it to the kids themselves? I just graduated high school. Making up a few days of material assures poorer student performance; trying to cram a few weeks or months of strike-lost material in at the end of the year is even more harmful.
So what should Mayor Emanuel do? Teachers should be compensated for work fairly, and nobody’s making the argument for defunding education or anything. But falling revenues are squeezing the city of Chicago. The teachers union is insisting, inflexibly, that their people ought to be immune to budget cuts – rather, that their pay should be accelerated. That’s more than a little unreasonable. In fact, when you look at the damage it’s causing to the city and to its children, it’s immoral as well.
Rahm Emanuel should take a page from New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s book on this one. While Mr. Emanuel (a former chief-of-staff for President Obama) seems unlikely to follow that path, it’s the right thing to do.