School's out in Chicago as teachers strike, parents scramble

CHICAGO, Sept 10 Mon Sep 10, 2012 3:34pm IST

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CHICAGO, Sept 10 (Reuters) - School was out in Chicago on Monday and parents scrambled for child care after public school teachers staged the first strike in a quarter century over reforms sought by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and endorsed by President Barack Obama's administration.

Some 29,000 teachers and support staff in the nation's third largest school district were involved, leaving parents of 350,000 students between kindergarten and high school age to find alternative supervision.

Churches, community centers, some schools and other public facilities prepared early on Monday for thousands of children under a $25 million strike "contingency plan" financed by the school district. The children will be supervised half a day and receive breakfast and lunch, allowing some parents to work.

The union has called the plan to care for children during the strike a "train wreck." It warned that caregivers for the children do not have proper training, and there are fears of an increase in gang-related violence in some high-crime areas.

Emanuel, the tough talking former White House chief of staff for Obama, blamed the union for the strike and said the two sides had been close to agreement.

"The kids of Chicago belong in the classroom," Emanuel said at a late Sunday night press conference after talks broke down.

Chicago offered teachers raises of 3 percent this year and another 2 percent annually for the following three years, amounting to an average raise of 16 percent over the duration of the proposed contract, School Board President David Vitale said.

"This is not a small contribution we're making at a time when our financial situation is very challenging," he said.

The school district, like many cities and states across the country, is facing a financial crisis with a projected budget deficit of $3 billion over the next three years and a crushing burden of pensions promised to retiring teachers.

Emanuel said two main issues remain to be resolved - his proposal that teachers be evaluated based in part on student performance on standardized tests, and more authority for school principals.

But union president Karen Lewis, who has sharply criticized Emanuel, said the standardized tests do not take into account of the poverty in inner city Chicago as well as hunger and violence in the streets.

More than 80 percent of Chicago students qualify for free lunches because they come from low-income households, and Chicago students have performed poorly compared with national averages on most reading, math and science tests.

Union officials said more than a quarter of Chicago public school teachers could lose their jobs if they are evaluated based on the tests.

"Evaluate us on what we do, not the lives of our children we do not control," Lewis said in announcing the strike.

Emanuel is among a number of big city mayors who have championed such school reforms and Obama's Education Secretary Arne Duncan has endorsed them.

The outcome of the strike could have national implications for school reform.

The Chicago confrontation also threatens to sour relations between Obama's Democratic party and labor unions with just weeks to go before the presidential election on Nov. 6.

While Obama is expected to win the vote in Chicago and his home state of Illinois, union anger could spill over into neighboring Midwest states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, where the election with Republican Mitt Romney is much closer.

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Comments (2)
oceanreef1212 wrote:
Recap… The teachers union wants more when everyone else gets less, they are going to use people (who are working for less) who can’t afford not to work to pressure Chicagoans to just give them what they want. Then, they don’t like the idea of using “metrics” to measure success of failure because the same kids who do not take into account of the poverty in inner city Chicago, hunger and violence in the streets.

Teachers love to be honored and paid more, but when it comes to making sacrifices the rest of us don’t get to vote and strike on when we don’t like how things are going for us, not so much. Of course their hands will be out for their retirements checks, that the parents of the kids they aren’t teaching who end up poor, hungry and prone to violence aren’t getting for the icing on that particular cake.

Makes perfect sense.

Sep 10, 2012 5:32pm IST  --  Report as abuse
Bodhizen wrote:
Point #1: This is not a race to the bottom, where everyone should share in everyone else’s pain. Teaching is a growth industry; not every industry in this nation is. It is equally “socialistic” to expect that everyone else share in your hardships, no matter how unfair you feel it may be.

Point #2: It is disingenuous in the extreme to base the evaluation of one person upon the performance of others that they have no direct control over. The best teachers in the world can still have students who choose to fail; students are not products, mass-produced as equals because not every student has the same advantages or disadvantages. You’re not working with the same materials as a carpenter might work with the same quality wood, and you are therefore not going to get the same quality product, no matter how good a craftsman you are.

Point #3: Teachers are paid significantly less than private-sector employees when accounting for level of education, certification requirements, number of hours worked, etc… Not only that, but those “cushy teacher pensions” that are the target of so much scorn are not golden parachutes by any measure. What’s also little known is that even though teachers contribute toward their own retirement (at fairly respectable levels, in fact), they also contribute their 6.2% toward Social Security that they’ll never be able to benefit from. Their “taxes” are going directly to support other peoples’ retirement, and not every pension plan is funded (either in large or small part) by taxpayer dollars. It’s a certainty that if you’re collecting anything from Social Security for any reason, teachers helped to pay for that, but it’s not a certainty in the slightest that you helped to pay in any part for a teacher’s retirement.

Everyone loves to be paid more. Everyone loves to be more respected in their jobs. These are not sins. No one got to vote on the policies that Wall Street implemented to crash this economy. No one got to vote on those golden parachutes that Wall Street executives floated to safety on. No one got to vote on jobs that got outsourced to foreign countries. There’s a lot that we don’t get a say in, and having some say in your job is a right that everyone should possess; after all, you directly contribute to the overall success of the business endeavor.

As for the kids who aren’t in school right now… Teachers are not babysitters. If public education completely collapsed, kids would be out there on the streets if they couldn’t pay for private education anyway. It’s a shame that there aren’t other places for them to go, but then again, it all costs money… Day care is more expensive than public education and it doesn’t provide half the services. However, it’s not a public service, so the day care companies can and should be allowed to profit according to free market conditions. So, if kids need someplace to go, I’m sure the free market will provide.

Sep 10, 2012 7:12am IST  --  Report as abuse
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