Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Not buying the Pritzker library union bashing story

Pritzker School Loses Librarian And Union Blocks Parents From Helping Out -- DNAinfo headline

From the headline, one might think that Pritzker school librarian was lost, maybe wandering the library archives somewhere or buried under a pile of books. One might also think that the CTU, weapons in hand, were somehow fighting off parent volunteers who wanted to help out in the school. Both assumptions would be wrong.

The story gained national attention after Pritzker parent, Michael Hendershot, who is also a lawyer (I'm guessing with little time to work pro-bono in the school library), wrote an angry, and a little more ideological op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal with the headline: The Library Lockout at Our Elementary School. 

Actually, the school's newly-hired librarian wasn't lost. Like hundreds of other Chicago teachers and educational professionals and para-professionals, she was fired after the 20th day of school because Pritzker's enrollment was lower than projected. In a city that was once the center of the national small-schools movement,  schools are now being punished, closed or consolidated for being small. In 2012, the Mayor and his criminal sidekick, CEO Byrd-Bennett, closed 50 neighborhood schools, nearly all in the black community, for "underutilization".

The state's schools have been operating without a school budget for the past two years. Gov. Rauner has been holding the budget hostage, hoping to leverage his signature for a pound of flesh, meaning a cut in retiree pensions, the elimination of teacher collective-bargaining rights, and more privatization of school services.

There are currently hundreds of Chicago public schools operating without properly-staffed libraries, school nurses, special-ed paras or school social workers. Librarians are vital to the functioning of any school. If wealthy, mainly-whte suburban schools did away with librarians, replacing them with untrained, unpaid volunteers, there would be a parent revolt.

From DNAinfo:
Rachel Lessem, a member of the local school council at Pritzker, said each student used to have an hour of library a week, where they learned how to research, how to use databases and how to access other sources of information. The students had homework and grades in library as well
In Chicago's two-tier, racially re-segregated school system, libraries and librarians are considered fluff, wasteful add-ons that are the first to go in times of crisis.

School principals, like Pritzker's Joenile Albert-Reese are increasingly being forced to choose between cutting classroom teachers (increasing class size) or librarians, school nurses or field trips. Hopefully, now with Troy LaRaviere leading the Chicago Principals Assoc., more principals will find the courage to stand up to the cuts and defend their schools against these assaults. In this case it was the librarian.

In the meantime, all the teachers and staff have going for them is the CTU. When Pritzker union rep, Kevin Hough filed a grievance after Albert-Reese tried to run the library with unpaid parent volunteers, a clear violation of the district's collective bargaining agreement, the shit hit the fan. Now the union is being blamed for "locking out" students and parents from the library.

Ronnie Reese, a union spokesman, issued the following statement:
“Sadly, budget cuts and the lack of revenue for Chicago’s public schools continue to affect basic services for our students, but per the Agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Board of Education, bargaining unit work cannot be delegated to non-bargaining unit volunteers. The [union] has offered and continues to offer its full support to the Pritzker Elementary Local School Council in organizing and advocating for restoration of lost funding and its librarian position."
The notion of a library run by unpaid volunteers or a teacherless classroom is a wet dream for corporate "reformers" and efficiency mongers like former Asst. Ed Secretary Peter Cunningham who has spent most of the past two days bashing the union over the supposed lock-out of Pritzker parents.

Cunningham, like Hendershot, puts the blame for the crisis on greedy teachers who won a small pay increase and are trying to protect their pensions "at the expense of students".

He tries to come off as a parent advocate while playing off Pritzker's parents against the teachers. But those who have followed Cunningham since he left Arne Duncan's D.O.E., remember how hard he  and Duncan  bashed the tens of thousands of parents who dared opt-out of the nation's testing madness. His posturing as an advocate for parents is laughable.

Another bit of irony... The school is named after the late Chicago billionaire A.N. Pritzker. The Pritzker family, owners of the Hyatt Hotel chain, is one of the city's most powerful families and notoriously anti-union. Penny Pritzker, now Obama's Commerce Secretary, was previously hand-picked by Rahm to sit on the school board. She voted for the mass school closings.

The irony is that if the Pritzkers and the other city oligarchs paid their fair share of taxes, Pritzker Elementary would still have its librarian and then some.


  1. We (CTU teachers) didn't really get a pay increase. We bargained to keep the same pay schedule we had previously, which includes increases for years of service and level of education. Because this is a continuation of what we already had, this would only be a strain on CPS's budget is they chose to make it so by not planning adequately, thus also creating a convenient scapegoat.

  2. No one is suggesting that volunteers can replace the librarian, but the volunteers would allow students to access the books in the library... nothing more. What should the school have cut instead? Which teacher should have lost his or her job instead? "The intention was never to replace a union position with a volunteer pool, especially given that the volunteers constituting [the] pool would not have any specialized training or degrees in either library science or education," Lessem said.

  3. Anon,
    Of course that is what they're, not only suggesting, but doing. You're asking the wrong question. It's not about, who should the school have cut instead? It's about how can our school(s) get the resources our children need and deserve, to learn and thrive? The answer should be the same as it is for kids and families, six miles up the lakeshore. Let's flip the script.

  4. Two points- How about someone sets up shop near the lawyer as a volunteer "law helper". Certainly anyone who has watched lots of Perry Mason or even been involved with the court system can help write wills, mediate disputes, etc. How hard can it be?
    And now Pritzker Elementary is known throughout the Wall Street Journal world as an understaffed school- certainly, if my name was on a school (and I had a lot of money), I would do all I could to make it a shining, not tarnished, star.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.