Now that Karen Lewis is the new president of the Chicago Teachers Union, she says her firs priority is keeping teachers employed.

Now that Karen Lewis is the new president of the Chicago Teachers Union, she says her firs priority is keeping teachers employed.

“Chicago Public Schools is trying to pit teachers against parents by suggesting that if teachers forego their scheduled 4 percent pay raise next year, (CPS) would not have to increase class sizes,” Lewis told the Defender.

After a six-year run as CTU president, incumbent Marilyn Stewart was defeated Friday by Lewis in a run-off election.

In her concession speech, Stewart pledged her support to Karen Lewis, a chemistry teacher at Martin Luther King College Preparatory High School.

“I want to congratulate Karen Lewis and her entire CORE team, and want them to know they can count on me for any assistance I can offer as they take on what will be one of the toughest challenges in the 73-year history of the Chicago Teachers Union,” Stewart said. “For when all is said and done, this election was never about Karen or me. It was about the 32,000 union members whose futures and well-being are now being threatened by an uncaring and insensitive Chicago Public Schools system.”

Stewart, who received 8,326 votes, represented the United Progressive Caucus while Lewis, who received 12,080 votes, represented the Caucus of Rank and File Educators.

Lewis, who takes office July 1, said while her victory marks change, she is more concerned about the school district’s proposal to increase class sizes to 34 students from 28, and a massive layoff of 2,700 teachers to help shrink its $600 million deficit.

“They cannot solve this budget crisis by compromising children’s education because education is about building relatioships,” Lewis explained.

Last week CTU filed a lawsuite against CPS in an effort to stop class sizes from increasing this fall. Stewart had said the increase violates city health and safety codes and puts students at risk should an emergency, such as a fire, occur.

Chicago Fire Department spokesman, Larry Langford, said that as long ast a classroom has adequate space, as required by city ordinace, having 34 students in a classroom poses on safety hazard.

Lewis told the Defender she has not seen the lawsuit yet, but did say one was discussed last year.

“Not sure why a lawsuit we discussed last year wasn’t filed until a few days ago, before the election,” Lews said.

One goal for Lewis is to improve resources to all schools, especially those located in low-income communities.

“Fifteen years ago, this city purposely began starving our lowest-income neighborhood schools of greatly needed resources and personnel,” she said. “The city has willfully neglected schools in poor communities for years and now they want to completely destroy them by closing them down.”

A career educator for 30 years Stewart said she is proud of her accomplishments as CTU president and hopes those achievements can be maintained and expanded by Lewis.

“I am especially proud of the enormous gains my team was able to win for our members during our six years in office.  Gains culminating in a five-year-contract with 4 percent annual raises – won in these tough times – that has become the envy of teacher unions across the country,” Stewart said, pointing out some union accomplishments made on her watch. “Now it’s up to Karen and her team to maintain these gains and fight for future improvements.”

Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender.

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