While K-12 education has been funded by the state throughout the ongoing budget crisis, uncertainty over future funding levels and potential changes to the school funding formula have made it difficult for school districts to plan their future spending. This uncertainty has made negotiating new contracts more difficult for districts. As a result, unions are using their legal option of voting to authorize a strike to pressure their district to come to agreement on a contract. The most recent example of this is the strike authorization by the teachers’ union for Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
Strikes or the threat of a strike place PTAs in awkward situations. PTAs usually have good working relationships with both school administrators and teachers, and both sides in the negotiations may want to use the PTA to get information out to families and the public. Here are some tips on how PTAs can navigate the tricky waters of dealing with a strike or strike threat.
Illinois PTA Positions
The Illinois PTA Legislative Platform, which states Illinois PTA positions as adopted by its members at the Illinois PTA Convention, has two sections relevant to strikes:
- We believe that during work stoppage or strikes by educational personnel, the PTA should act as a source of information, maintain its position as advocates for children, and urge educational personnel to return to their work assignments while continuing negotiations.
- During any negotiation process we urge teachers to refrain from attempting to influence the thinking of students by discussing pending or resolved issues unless appropriate to the subject area being taught.
Note that during a strike, a PTA should stay true to its mission and purposes of being an advocate for children and a source of information. PTA’s should not take sides in negotiations, nor should they provide information biased towards or against one of the negotiating parties.
Illinois PTA recommends that all members of your PTA—especially the officers and board members—as well as school administrators, teachers, all other school staff, bargaining agents, district superintendents, local school board members, and elected officials are made aware of the official Illinois PTA positions listed above. This can be done through PTA newsletters, e-mail blasts, meetings with appropriate groups, letters to the school board, general media press releases, and letters to the editor.
What to Do If Contacted by the Media
Only the PTA president or others authorized by your PTA should speak officially for your PTA. Make sure that your members, officers, and board members are aware of this and have them refer media requests to the PTA president or other designated person.
In general, when being interviewed by the media, a reporter may interview you for 10 or 15 minutes, but only a few seconds of that interview may end up being used on TV or radio or only a sentence or two quoted in a newspaper article. Consequently, it is important to have your most important points—that PTA is neutral in the negotiations and that we are focused on the children being affected—at the front of your mind, and you will want to bring every question back around to these points. By doing that, any small quote or clip of an interview will include PTA’s position.
Avoid speaking “off the cuff” with a reporter. If you are caught unprepared, tell the reporter that this is not a convenient time to talk, ask when their deadline is, and return the call once you have collected your thoughts and are prepared to speak to them. Remember to keep your personal opinions out of the discussion when speaking for the PTA.
Your PTA president or other designated speaker should also be familiar with any activities or events your PTA plans to provide in the case of a strike. Your PTA may want to prepare a fact sheet with this information as well.
Reporters may also ask to identify parents they can interview. Illinois PTA recommends that your PTA either recommend only knowledgeable PTA members who are familiar with the PTA positions or adopt a policy of making no referrals. Reporters are often looking for emotional or inflammatory statements, so it is to the PTA’s benefit to ensure that only those who understand the PTA positions, have a positive attitude, speak without taking sides, and always advocate for the children are the ones speaking with reporters.
Remember that there will eventually be a settlement, and by not having taken a side, PTA will be able to work with both the administration and the union to help bring the two sides back together to work for the best education for all children.
Hosting a Meeting Concerning a Strike
Your PTA may wish to host a meeting on the issue of an upcoming or ongoing strike. If so, keep the following points in mind:
- The meeting should provide information on all aspects of the strike.
- The meeting is a PTA meeting and not a venue for any vested group. Provide ample question and answer time and invite presenters who are well-informed on the issues.
- The school board and bargaining unit, if included in the meeting, should be given equal time to present their positions.
- Provide the audience with copies of the Illinois PTA positions regarding strikes and what actions your PTA will be taking.
PTA Do’s and Don’ts During a Strike
Clearly establish what your PTA will and will not do during the strike. Share that information with your membership, the parties involved in negotiations, the media, and the public. Here are the basics:
- The PTA does not staff classrooms during a strike.
- The PTA does not march in picket lines.
- The PTA does not serve refreshments to strikers or others involved in the strike.
- The PTA does not “take sides” during the strike.
- The PTA will not distribute literature from either side. Any information distributed by the PTA should present information on the positions of both sides.
- PTA members may act as volunteers at locations set up to accommodate students who might otherwise be unsupervised to assist staff and students at these locations.
- The PTA may request that teachers prepare an outline of home study for students and ensure that all textbooks are taken home if and when necessary.
- The PTA may share information on childcare alternatives and other activities available in the community for students.
- The PTA will continue to advocate for adequate, equitable, and sustainable funding for schools as well as the other legislative positions supported by the Illinois PTA in our Legislative Platform.
Resources for PTAs Regarding Strikes
Here are some resources for PTAs to help with strikes in general.
Specific Information on the CPS Strike
On Tuesday, October 4, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced their contingency plans in case a strike by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) begins on October 11th. The plans include having all schools open during their regular bell schedules and providing a free breakfast and lunch to students who need them. All classes and extracurricular activities, however will be cancelled. Below are the resources on these plans that the Illinois PTA has available at this time.
Graphic © 2009 by Agnes Perlapse, modified under Creative Commons license.