"Chicago teachers are not underpaid."-- Rahm Emanuel
Rahm Emanuel is back campaigning again after an extended vacation in Thailand. He must be worried over the prospect of not simply being able to waltz onto the 5th floor of Chicago's City Hall without serious opposition. The press is even starting to ask him some tough questions. No more 24/7 diversionary coverage of his residency problems--thank heaven.
A run-off seems likely and recent polls indicate strong anti-Rahm sentiments, especially in the city's African-American community.
His handlers obviously think the way to pad his lead in the polls is by hammering an easy target--teachers and their union. And maybe they're right. Over the past few months, teachers unions and public employees in general have become the target of corporate reformers and powerful city business groups like the Civic Committee, bent on eliminating their right to strike or bargain collectively.
"Emanuel backs crackdown on teachers," read a headline in the Sun-Times on January 10. The story has Rahm portraying teachers as if they were some street gang he had to crush, preying on their innocent students, even "cheating" them out of "four years of education" while their union resists reform. Ever the demagogue, ("F**k the UAW") Rahm is re-inventing himself as a sensitive, caring advocate for the kids and trying to shake his foul-mouthed bully image:
Shaking hands at "L" stops around the city, Emanuel said he has seen "an emptiness in kid's eyes that I would never accept in my own children."
The "emptiness" Rahm claims to see may actually be a reflection of growing child poverty and hunger in the city. Nearly a third of Chicago children are now living below the poverty line, which could account for the growing gap in measurable learning outcomes between wealthy and poor kids and schools.
Rahm hasn't mentioned the worsening conditions for many of the city's children and families. Instead he has joined forces with anti-union and anti-public employee groups, like the Oregon-based Stand for Children, who are pushing legislation in Springfield that would deprive teachers of tenure and the right to strike. Rahm raises the bogeyman of dangerous teacher strikes, comparing them to strikes of firemen and police, which could endanger citizens. This even though there hasn't been a teachers' strike in Chicago in 23 years.
Rahm's solution to the city's growing educational woes after 15 years of mayoral control of the schools: Fire thousands of teachers; increase class size; make those remaining work longer hours for less pay; arbitrarily close 35 neighborhood schools (he never specifies which schools or how they will be determined); and put teachers on a pay-for-performance contract tying pay to student test scores, eliminating all forms of job security. Rahm also promises to import the so-called "parent trigger" strategy from California. Under this law, a group of parents may petition to have a public school closed and turned over to a private management company, pitting parent against parent and neighbor against neighbor.
The prospects for an election victory for Rahm Emanuel, of his sitting in the mayor's chair with full autocratic power over the city's schools, now hangs heavy over the district's 21,000 teachers. If the changes he proposes are implemented, it will be much tougher for Chicago to attract and keep the most skilled and experienced teachers for our neediest schools. His bashing of teachers and unions could usher in a new era of labor strife, disruptions and instability in the lives of city kids. That would be a tragedy.
Follow Mike Klonsky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mikeklonsky