Chicago Teachers Go on Strike

400,000 Chicago students will be out of school indefinitely as their teachers go on strike Monday in the country’s third-largest school district.

Almost 30,000 teachers and support staff are off the job after their union and school officials failed to reach a contract agreement despite 400 hours of negotiations. The strike is Chicago’s first in 25 years.

The flood of out-of-class students from nearly 700 schools is prompting police to beef up operations. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said the department will be “emptying out our offices” to send police assigned to administrative duties out on the street.

“The kids in Chicago belong in the classroom,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters Sunday night, after the talks failed. “Our kids do not deserve this.”

The sticking point for the union and the school system centered around issues such as compensation, merit pay and an evaluation system.

“Negotiations have been intense but productive, but we have failed to reach an agreement that would prevent a labor strike,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told reporters late Sunday night.

The district said 144 schools will be open with limited hours, but parents are strongly encouraged “to first explore other options for their children.”

“We know that a strike will put a strain on many families, and no one will be hurt more by a strike than our students,” Chicago Public Schools said on its website.

Minutes before the union announced the impending strike, the president of Chicago’s school board said officials offered the city’s teachers a contract including pay increases and other measures they’d requested.

The package offered by school officials include effectively guaranteed pay increases for four years, does not include merit pay and offers “some give on the evaluation system.”

“The average teacher will get a 16% raise over that (4-year) period” at a time when the city’s fiscal situation is on edge, the school board president said of the offered deal.

Lewis, the union president, acknowledged that “talks have been productive in many areas.”

“We have successfully won concessions for nursing mothers and put more than 500 of our members back to work. We have restored some of the art, music, world language, technology and physical education classes to many of our students. The board also agreed that we will now have textbooks on the first day of school, rather than have our students and teachers wait for up to six weeks before receiving instructional materials.”

But issues such as health benefits and evaluation procedures remain.

Lewis said she was concerned about the possibility of a large termination of teachers under a new evaluation system.

“We are also concerned that too much of the evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure teacher effectiveness at all,” she said.

Some students in the district began class on August 13, and others, on a different schedule, started on September 4.

“In the morning, no (union) members will be inside our schools,” Lewis said, adding that teachers will march on picket lines and talk to community members.

Mayor Emanuel said he was disappointed at the impasse Sunday night, saying he believed the offers laid out were fair to both teachers and taxpayers.

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