By Loretta A. Ragsdell
Photo by Dwayne Truss
Austin resident Mildred Dubose’s grandchildren would normally be in school this week, listening to their teachers, eating and laughing with their friends at lunchtime in the cafeteria, or studying in the library or computer lab.
Instead, her grandkids, with about 350,000 Chicago students who attend public schools citywide, aren’t in school, leaving parents scrambling to find educational alternatives for their children as the teacher’s strike enters day four.
A number of schools, including those in Austin and surrounding West Side neighborhoods, have been opened by CPS under a “Children’s First” banner for parents and kids to go after more than 30,000 teachers joined the picket lines Monday.
While many Austin residents do back teachers in general, their support is tempered with the strike as they see their kids losing out on an education.
“I fully support the teachers; however, I wish they could have accomplished this without going out on strike,” DuBose said. “They should have gotten their message out to the families and communities earlier and the support would be greater. Right now, many parents think it is all about money and are unaware this will ultimately help our students.”
Elce Redmond, an organizer with the South Austin Coalition Community Council, tells Austin Weekly News he and other activists will join the teachers on the picket line in solidarity. The last teacher’s strike in Chicago occurred 25 years ago, lasting 19 days. But the union and Chicago Board of Education this time have expressed belief that an agreement is imminent, and that the teachers and students will return to their classrooms soon.
Contract negotiations broke down late Sunday night between the board and the Chicago Teachers Union. After seven months of negotiations, both parties left the table without an agreement.
In a Sunday night press conference, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the CTU’s decision to walk out “a strike of choice.” Emanuel said there are only two minor issues remaining to be resolved, and they are not financial.
Karen Lewis, CTU’s president, countered that the remaining issues are not minor, and that even though the bargaining sessions have been “intense, but productive, the teachers have no choice but to strike.”
Among the unresolved issues is CPS’ proposed teacher evaluation, which would be tied to student performance on standardized tests. The plan could result in 6,000 teachers losing their jobs under this evaluation system, according to Lewis, who called the plan “unacceptable.”
Lewis agreed there has been significant progress between the parties.
CPS has proposed a 16 percent pay increase over a four-year period. It also agreed that all students will have their books on the first day of class as opposed to past practice of receiving them as late as six weeks into the school year. Lewis addressed the need for a reduction class size, which often exceeds 30 students, as well as the need for more social workers for an entire district that currently has just 340.
The strike has garnered national attention and overwhelming support from many of Illinois’ labor unions. Negotiations continue even though teachers remain on strike.
Hundreds of teachers and supporters assembled this week outside the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago and at many city schools. Instructors at Ella Flagg Young Elementary School, 1434 N. Parkside Ave., and Sayre Elementary School, 1850 N. Newland Ave., were among those in Austin on the picket line this week.
Although teachers are reluctant to go on record publicly, many said they fully supported the union’s decision to strike. They insist it’s also imperative they stand up for themselves and their students.
One of CPS’ newly-hired teachers this year, who asked that he not be identified by name, said he’s glad to stand in solidarity.
“I came to CPS to teach special education and to make a difference. I am looking forward to working with my students,” he said. “Once the strike is settled, we will have a better learning environment and opportunity for our students.”
Options for Families
Chicago Public Schools this week announced the opening of 147 “Children First” sites to provide childcare for families. Here’s a list of sites in Austin, Garfield Park and surrounding West Side:
Crown Elementary, 2128 South St. Louis Ave.
Herzl Elementary, 3711 W. Douglas Blvd.
Hefferan Elementary, 4409 W. Wilcox St.
Tilton Elementary, 223 N. Keeler Ave.
Marshall High School, 3250 W. Adams St.
Spencer Elementary, 214 N. Lavergne Ave.
Brunson Elementary, 932 N. Central Ave.
Nobel Elementary, 4127 S. Hirsch St.
Piccolo Elementary, 1040 N. Keeler Ave.
Sayre Elementary, 1850 N. Newland Ave.