| CHICAGO, Sept 10
CHICAGO, Sept 10 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
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.