UPDATE: AP reports that the strike is averted for now and there will be classes on Tuesday.
CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago teachers and officials in the nation’s third-largest school district reached a tentative agreement late Monday to avert a strike that would have affected about 400,000 students.
The Chicago Teachers Union said its members were prepared to walk off the job Tuesday morning for its second major strike since 2012, when teachers were out for seven school days. At issue during the negotiations, which stretched into a second year, were pension contributions, pay raises, staffing levels and classroom funding.
Union leaders said teachers did not want to strike, but were concerned about threats to reduce their pay and benefits, as well as “the overall impact of school-based cuts on their students.” Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool said teachers deserve a raise but the district is facing massive financial challenges.
Here’s a look at the situation:
The cash-strapped school district wanted to phase out the decades-old practice of paying most of teachers’ pension contributions, replacing it with a total base wage increase in a four-year contract. The union wanted the district to keep up the pension payments and seeks raises at the end of a three-year contract. The new agreement calls for the district to continue to make the pension payments for veteran teachers, while new hires will make their own pension payments.
CTU President Karen Lewis said the union has commitments from the board on a number of things that will allow work in the classroom to be easier. Lewis had pointed out schools have lost some special education resources and librarians due to budget cuts. Plus, the district ended automatic pay raises for experience and education last year.
The bargaining unit of the union — representing about 28,000 members — rejected the district’s last offer in February.
The threat of a strike was set against perilous financial problems for Chicago’s public schools as well as the state of Illinois.
The district announced layoffs last week for about 250 teachers and staff due to a larger-than-anticipated drop in enrollment. And credit rating agencies have placed the district at “junk” status, or below investment grade, while its $5.4 billion budget relies on increased property taxes, borrowing and $215 million in state funding.
But the state funding is contingent on a wider pension overhaul that must be approved by state lawmakers, who are deadlocked over the budget with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. The governor also has pushed to curb union power, suggested the district file for bankruptcy and unsuccessfully attempted a state takeover of the district’s finances.
WHERE DO THE KIDS GO DURING A STRIKE?
Had there been a strike, all 652 schools would have been open during normal school hours and staffed by non-union employees to provide online learning, physical education and arts and crafts. Classes and extracurricular activities will be canceled, but free breakfast and lunch will be provided to students who need them.
Safe Passage routes, which are staffed by adults to help kids get to and from school safely, would operate as usual. The district also partnered with libraries, the park district and “Safe Haven” locations, such as churches, to provide child care.
In 2012, only 140 schools were open, and only from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with the district asking community organizations to provide additional programs.
The 2012 strike was the first teacher walkout in 25 years and was tied to evaluations, classroom conditions and job security. Parents and community leaders were largely supportive then, but it’s unclear whether the sentiment would stick this year. Plus, the threat of a strike came as Chicago residents have seen major increases in property taxes and other fees, and an uptick in street violence.
One thing is clear: Negotiations had a different tone. In 2012, the outspoken Lewis and Mayor Rahm Emanuel were often at odds. Emanuel had canceled a pay raise, and Lewis dubbed him “the murder mayor” because of city violence and briefly considered challenging him in the 2015 mayor’s race.
CHICAGO (AP) — Teachers in the nation’s third-largest school district were preparing to go on strike for the second time since 2012, as contract talks between the Chicago Teachers Union and financially troubled Chicago Public Schools headed into Monday evening with no sign of an agreement.
The CTU has directed it’s roughly 28,000 members to report to picket lines Tuesday morning unless they hear otherwise from union negotiators. All 652 schools will be open during normal school hours for the district’s 400,000 students, CPS said.
The two sides held negotiations throughout the weekend. On Monday afternoon, teachers picked up strike placards and painted banners. Earlier in the day, parents and other supporters rallied across from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home, and another pro-educators rally was planned for Monday evening.
Teachers have been without a contract since June 2015. The union wants no cuts to salary or benefits and an additional $200 million — or $500 per student — in spending to ensure adequate staffing and “to accommodate the needs of our children,” CTU President Karen Lewis said.
CPS has said it is working within the framework of a January offer, which included pay increases and a cap on privately operated charter schools but would require teachers to contribute more to their pension costs. The union turned it down in February.
About two-dozen people with Parents 4 Teachers rallied in the leafy Ravenswood neighborhood on the city’s North Side. Several children, off school due to Columbus Day, also were there; one held a placard that read, “Parents, Teachers, Students — United.”
Organizer Erica Hade has several children in the public school system and lives across the street from a school. She said she sees teachers arriving for work at 6 a.m. and leaving 12 hours later.
“How can parents not be supportive of teachers?” she said.
One theme struck by several at the rally was the perception that Emanuel focuses inordinately on wooing businesses to Chicago. At one point, protesters chanted, “Mayor Emanuel, we’re no fools. If there’s money for developers, there’s money for schools.”
People went door to door handing out cards that listed issues they saw as critical, such as enforceable class-size limits, a moratorium on charter-schools expansion and no cuts to teachers’ pay. One Ravenswood resident, Jim Tormey, a 52-year-old father of two children who attend city schools, spoke with the demonstrators. Afterward, he said he had some sympathy for teachers but that his feelings were mixed.
“There are ebbs and flows in that sympathy,” he said. “We love our teachers, but we want our kids not to miss school because of a strike.”
During the last major strike in 2012, teachers were out for seven school days.
CPS officials say the district is facing serious financial constraints, due largely to soaring pension costs and a flawed state school funding formula.