Bad News: Chicago teachers to strike today

September 10, 2012  |  

With the rage of violence spreading across Chicago, its hard to imagine that a strike from public school teachers and support staff is on the horizon. This can’t be good for either parties involved, especially during a period of intense gang warfare.

According to NBC:

For the first time in 25 years, teachers in the Chicago school system will walk off the job Monday after failing to reach a contract deal with district officials, NBC Chicago reported.

In Chicago, parents are holding their breath as 29,000 public school teachers and support staff prepare to strike Monday, principally about salaries and teacher evaluations. NBC’s Kevin Tibbles reports.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis announced late Sunday night that negotiations with the school board have ended without an agreement. “We have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike,” she said at a news conference.

Earlier, Chicago School Board President David Vitale said that more than 20 offers had been made to teachers throughout the last four days in hopes of preventing a strike, NBC Chicago reported.

A strike in the third-largest school district in the nation would set up a historic confrontation between Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Barack Obama’s former top White House aide, and organized labor in the president’s home city.

Community leaders have begged both sides to come to an agreement and keep children in the nation’s third-largest school district in class.
“We can’t afford to have young people in harm’s way,” said Cy Fields, senior pastor of New Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, located in a violence-torn community.

The strike will mean that some 350,000 children from kindergarten through high school may have to go to alternative centers for supervision such as churches and community centers.

Nearly 150 schools will be open for a half day, as will 60 churches. The Chicago Park District and the YMCA will offer day-camps, NBC Chicago reported.

A protracted stoppage could hurt relations between Obama’s Democrats and national labor unions, who are among the biggest financial supporters of the Democratic Party and will be needed by the party to help get out the vote in the November 6 election.

While Emanuel has not attended the talks, he and Lewis have clashed. She has accused him of being a bully and using profanity in private meetings.

At issue are teacher pay and school reforms, including tougher teacher evaluations, which are at the heart of the national debate over improving struggling urban schools.

‘A lot at stake’

Both sides in Chicago agree the city’s public schools need fixing. Chicago fourth-grade and eighth-grade students lag national averages in a key test of reading ability, according to the U.S. Department of Education. One union complaint is that class sizes are too big.

Emanuel, who has a reputation as a tough negotiator, is demanding that teacher evaluations be tied to standardized test results, a move the union is resisting. He has also pushed through a longer school day this year.

Only about 60 percent of high school students in Chicago graduate, compared with a national average of 75 percent and more than 90 percent in some affluent Chicago suburbs.

More than 80 percent of the 402,000 students in Chicago public schools qualify for free lunches because they are from low-income families.
The Chicago Public Schools say they have little room to maneuver on salary, with both the state and the city in dire financial straits. The district has a projected $3 billion deficit over the next three years and faces a crushing burden of pensions promised to retiring teachers.
The strike is the biggest public or private labor action in the United States in a year and the first teachers’ strike in Chicago since 1987.

Franchesca Lane-Warren

Report/Image Courtesy of: NBC News

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