By Fran Eaton -
CHICAGO - "On Monday, August 29th, CTU members—teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians—will report to their schools and classrooms. They will be returning to work without a labor agreement amidst severe budget cuts and threats to their profession, income and benefits," Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told reporters at an August 9th press conference.
President Lewis' key, but easily overlooked, phrase? "CTU members - teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians ..."
Karen Lewis is the president of the Chicago Teachers Union. It's her job to look out for her union members - not the taxpayers, not the students - the union members. Keep that in mind. The more members, the more powerful a union is.
The Chicago School Board passed a $5.4 billion budget this week that will depend upon yet another property tax hike to not fix, but simply alleviate some pressure on the heavily-obligated school district's finances.
In order to get that close to balancing the budget, more than 1,000 of Lewis' union members were laid off on August 5 and special education funding drastically cut. The staffing cuts caused Lewis to sound the alarm.
“Teachers and students are returning to school buildings that are unsafe due to potential lead contamination, unclean, unhealthy and understaffed,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “This is no way to run a school district.”
Unclean. Unhealthy. Understaffed.
Let's focus on her "understaffed" claim.
Chicago reported 392,285 students enrolled on the 20th day of classes in 2015. CPS enrollment last year fell below 400,000 students for the first time in at least two decades.
The latest official figures show CPS employed 35,852 teachers and paraprofessionals - nearly one for every ten students.
"It's a tough job, teachers need aides and a support system to do their jobs," compassionate, taxpaying observers typically deduce.
But what is a reasonable ratio?
Dr. Ben Scafidi of Kennesaw State University's Coles College of Business has studied the numerical growth of public school students compared to public school staff from the years 1950 to 2009, and the results are stunning.
Nationwide, the student population grew 96 percent during those 59 years, while the number of teachers grew 252 percent and the number of administrators and other staff grew 702 percent.
In Illinois, Dr. Scafidi says the figures were more challenging to find, but his findings for the years from 1992 to 2014 indicated disproportionate student to staff additions. While the number of Illinois students grew 12 percent during those years, the number of staff grew nearly three times as much.
Of those, 24 percent were teachers and 50 percent were administrators and "paraprofessionals" - the ones Karen Lewis mentioned.
So the question was - how did the decades-long public school hiring spree improve education nationwide?
"Student achievement did not rise," Dr. Scafini said. "Nationally, public high school graduation rates are now about the same as they were in 1970."
And in defense of the students, Dr. Scafini said there's really no evidence showing that "kids are worse" than they used to be. There is evidence that the amount of divorce and single parenting has been on the incline - indicating that parental involvement has declined, but the excuse that test scores reflect students that as a whole misbehave more these days is not backed up by statistics.
"President Bush's 'No Child Left Behind' program did not make us do it," Scafini said.
And then the question, What if Illinois public schools had increased non-teaching staff at the same rate as its increase in students?
"Illinois would have saved $1.7 billion per year in annual recurring savings," Scafini said.
He went on - reminding that the numbers he has may be understated because in his research, Illinois' numbers were especially difficult to find.
"Teachers could have been given a $12,200 raise, property taxes could have been reduced and 207,738 children could have been provided $8000 scholarships to private schools," he said.
Dr. Scafini's perspective shed light on CTU President Karen Lewis' complaints and demands for more, yet more, from Illinois taxpayers.
While Governor Rauner is fighting a Democrat majority in the legislature that is heavily backed by teachers unions' such as the one Lewis leads, he has been steadfast increasing the state's education budget.
While Rauner emphasizes the need for better education in Illinois, that particular budget is now faced with unpaid pension obligations that are soaking up state funds needed for current expenses.
Dr. Scafini's partial diagnosis of how Illinois got where it is in the budget crisis does not provide a solution, but it does provide direction on how to begin righting the ship or realize that, without dramatic change, what it will take to keep the ship afloat.
The Chicago Teachers Union says that their members have made enough sacrifices over the past few years when pay raises and benefits were cut in order to keep schools open. They're drawing a line in the sand.
“Chicago teachers do not seek to go on strike. We want to return to clean, safe, resourced schools. We want a fair contract. We will continue to partner with parents and community residents in fighting for the schools our students deserve," Lewis said in August. “But we will not accept an imposed pay cut...Do not force our hand."
And to think it all started with a well-intentioned hiring spree...
Fran Eaton is editor and co-founder of Illinois Review, a freelance writer, a taxpayer and a retired homeschool mom. Tweet her @FranEaton .