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Austin resident Mildred Dubose's grandchildren would normally be in school this week, listening to their classroom teachers, eating and laughing with their friends at lunchtime in the cafeteria, or studying in the library or computer lab.
Instead, her grandkids are out of the school as are the roughly 350,000 Chicago kids attending public city schools. The teacher's strike, which is entering its fourth day, has Austin parents scrambling to find alternative education options for their children. 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.
Austin schoolteachers remain on the picket line. And though 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 (SACCC), tells Austin Weekly News that 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 Sept. 9, between the board and the Chicago Teachers' Union (CTU). More than 30,000 teachers walked out Monday, leaving public schoolchildren and their parents to find alternate educational and childcare opportunities. 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 teacher evaluation, which CPS proposes to 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 that 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 exceed 30 students, as well as the need for more social workers in a district that currently has only 340. Negotiations continue even though teachers remain on strike.
Instructors at Ella Flagg Young Elementary School, 1434 N. Parkside, and Sayre Elementary School, 1850 N. Newland Ave., were among those in Austin on the picket line this week.
The strike has garnered national attention and overwhelming support from many of Illinois' labor unions.
Hundreds of teachers and supporters assembled this week outside the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago and at many city schools. 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 that they stand up for themselves and their students.
One of CPS's 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."