By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers went on strike Monday and the 402,000 children who attend public schools have been directed to CPS contingency sites until an agreement has been reached.
After about 10 months of negotiations the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and CPS have not
come to a contract agreement, which led to the strike. Picketers began marching at 675 schools Monday morning.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he was disappointed that the CTU chose to strike given how closely they have come to reaching an
“This is a strike of choice,” Emanuel said at a press conference. “We’ve asked them to postpone this so we can work out the other issues … the two are evaluation and the principals to have the amount of accountability they need and the results they need for our children in the schools.”
Emanuel said “we have made a series of offers that I think are respectful of our teachers, does right by our kids and is fair to our tax payers.”
Union leaders expressed disappointment in CPS’s refusal to concede on issues involving compensation, job security and resources for their students, said Karen Lewis, president of the CTU.
“This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could avoid,” Lewis said. “We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve.”
She said although talks have been productive and CTU has successfully won concessions for nursing mothers; put more than 500 displaced teachers back to work; restored some of the art, music, world language, technology and physical education classes to many schools; and got CPS to agree to have textbooks on the first day of school, teacher’s benefits, evaluation procedures and a reasonable timetable for the installation of air conditioning in student classrooms are still being negotiated.
Andrea Washington, counselor at Canter Middle School, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., said that in addition to wanting smaller class
sizes, more counselors and social workers in schools and not wanting teacher evaluations to be tied to student performance, there are other benefits teachers are striking for that must be addressed before they return to the classroom.
“They don’t want us to accumulate vacation days,” said Washington, who was picketing in front of Canter. “We would have to take our 10 days each year or lose them.” “They want us to stay current with our certification but they don’t pay for it. Who
doesn’t want teachers to learn?” Washington said.
Washington said if CPS wanted to mirror other cities when mandating a longer school day they should also follow the lead of other cities that pay for employees’ professional development or its own policy of paying for other city of Chicago employees who go back to school.
“Chicago’s police and fire department can go to school for free,” Washington said. “I have a friend who is a police officer that was able to get a law degree, paid for by the city.”
Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., is one of the 144 schools and many youth organizations and churches
that are open as half-day safety sites that provide recreational activities for students during the strike.
Kenwood sophomore Parris Shaw and freshmen Geory Carter and Shalena Taylor said they are not going inside but would rather stay outside and picket with the teachers.
“They are doing this for us and for themselves,” Taylor said. “Fifty-five students in a classroom is too much pressure for students. We need more attention at this level.”
Shaw said the quality of the school needs improvement.
“The text books are falling apart,” Shaw said. “There are over 1,600 students in the school and on the first week of school the AC wasn’t working and the school lunch is not of good quality.”
Carter said aside from the classrooms being too hot she had fun during her first week of school and was looking forward to
joining extra-curricular activities.
“I was looking forward to joining the cheerleader and track team and cheering during the football season,” Carter said.
CPS and the CTU agreed to continue meeting to negotiate the contract.
“Our team is available at any time to pick up where we left off so we can get our kids back into to school,” Emanuel said.
“We are committed to staying at the table until a contract is place,” Lewis said.