Chicago Teachers On Strike, Affecting 400,000 Students

Teachers in Chicago walked off the job Monday after contract negotiations fell through, leaving 400,000 students in the nation’s third-largest district shut out of their classrooms.

Contract talks broke down late last night and by Monday morning Chicago public school teachers, many wearing red t-shirts and carrying signs, picketed around the city for the first time in a quarter century.

At a news conference late Sunday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the teachers’ move a “strike of choice”.

Emanuel says the union walked away from the table too soon.

“We’re down to two issues. Finish it! Let the kids go back where they belong,” he said late Sunday. “This is not the right thing to do to the children. It’s unnecessary. It’s avoidable and it’s wrong.”

But Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said there hasn’t been enough movement on job protection, class sizes and teacher evaluations.

“We demand a fair contract now and until there’s one in place that our members will accept, we will be on the line,” she said.

Board President David Vitale said after the teachers rejected a 16 percent pay raise over four years and a number of other benefits, there was little more that could be offered.

“There is only so much money in the system,” Vitale said. “This is not a small commitment we’re handing out at a time when our fiscal situation is really challenged.”

Becky Vevea, of member station WBEZ, reports that school leaders and Emanuel:

… want big changes similar to ones being pushed nationally – a longer school day, longer school year, a new system for grading teachers and a whole new way to pay them.

The teachers union is pushing back on those efforts, arguing for Emanuel to invest in what they say are under-resourced neighborhood schools.

Vevea reports that it’s an awkward time for the union because unemployment is high and district budgets are being cut.

It could also be awkward for the Obama administration. Education Secretary Arne Duncan ran the Chicago schools for years and Emanuel is a former administration chief of staff.

Rhoda Gutierrez, a parent with two kids in public school, told WBEZ that the politicians in Washington, D.C. need to step in.

“This is where Obama came from, this is where Duncan came from,” Gutierrez said. “The policies in Chicago have gone national and viral.”

According to The Chicago Tribune, the districts’ 144 schools will be staffed with non-union employees, including principals and assistant principals to provide services and meals.

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