* Teachers, Emanuel disagree on where negotiations stand
* Chicago's Democratic mayor has championed education reform
* Teacher performance evaluation is key issue
By Nick Carey and Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO, Sept 11 A strike of Chicago teachers
that has closed the nation's third-largest school district will
drag into Wednesday after unionized teachers and negotiators for
Mayor Rahm Emanuel failed to reach an agreement in the biggest
labor dispute in the United States in a year.
Negotiations adjourned late on Tuesday with both sides
saying they had made progress but had not secured a deal to get
29,000 teachers and support staff back in inner-city schools.
Speaking earlier on Tuesday at a school where children
affected by the strike were being supervised, Emanuel repeated
that the two issues in dispute were how to evaluate teachers and
more authority for school principals.
Chicago Teachers Union leader Karen Lewis, who has clashed
with Emanuel, differed on the state of the talks. She said only
six of nearly 50 union contract provisions had been agreed.
"There's not been as much movement as we would hope," Lewis
said of the talks on Tuesday.
Earlier, Lewis was greeted with applause and shouts of
"Thank You Karen," when she appeared at a rally of thousands of
teachers in downtown Chicago. For the second day, teachers
wearing red T-shirts marched and chanted "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Rahm
Emanuel's got to go."
Emanuel, who resigned as President Barack Obama's White
House chief of staff to run for Chicago mayor in 2011, has shown
no sign of backing down in the confrontation.
The mayor's chief negotiator, David Vitale, criticized the
teachers as the talks recessed on Tuesday. "This is not the
behavior of a group of people who are serious about helping our
children," Vitale said.
Other Chicago unions closed ranks behind Lewis and the
teachers. Randi Weingarten, the national president of the union
representing Chicago teachers, appeared at a press conference
flanked by local union representatives from nurses, janitors,
transit workers and police officers to pledge support.
The union representing janitors said that if the strike is
not settled within 48 hours, some janitors would stop crossing
picket lines to clean schools where children are supervised.
A poll taken on Monday showed 47 percent of Chicago
registered voters supported the union while 39 percent oppose
the strike and 14 percent did not know. The poll by McKeon and
Associates of 500 Chicago registered voters, has a margin of
error of 3.8 percent, and was reported in the Chicago Sun-Times.
With no sign of an early end to the strike, the patience of
parents was tested as they juggled child care and work.
Many parents stayed home from work with their children on
the first day of a strike affecting some 350,000 children.
Chicago school officials said only about 18,000 students
took part in a half day of supervision on Monday at 144 public
schools, where kids received breakfast and lunch.
One complaint from parents was that the centers closed at
12:30 p.m. On Tuesday, the school district announced that they
would be staying open until 2:30 p.m. in future.
At New Landmark Missionary Baptist Church in the
violence-ridden East Garfield Park neighborhood, 26 children
showed up on Tuesday compared with 14 on the first day of the
Some parents decided to bring children to the church rather
than schools, where striking teachers were picketing, said
Ticina Cutler, 32, who has three sons in Chicago Public Schools.
"I don't want to cross any picket lines," she said.
The strike has forced the cancellation of all public
school-related extracurricular activities such as sports and the
arts. It has not affected about 52,000 students at publicly
funded, non-union charter schools attending classes as usual.
The face-off in Obama's home city is the biggest private or
public sector labor dispute since 45,000 Verizon Communications
workers went on strike last year.
The stakes are high for both supporters and foes of a
national movement for radical reform of urban schools.
The most contentious issue is teacher evaluations, which
Emanuel insists should be tied to performance of students, and
which is at the heart of the national debate on school reform.
Emanuel is proposing that Chicago teachers be evaluated
based on a system that would rate teachers in several
categories. Administrators would observe them in the classroom.
Students would be asked about teacher strengths and weaknesses.
And, most controversially, many teachers would be assessed based
on their students' performance on standardized tests.
The union fiercely opposes the proposed evaluation system,
arguing that many Chicago students perform poorly on
standardized tests because they come to school hungry and live
in poor and crime-ridden neighborhoods.
"We are miles apart because this is a very serious
ideological difference here," Lewis said.
Chicago Public Schools are offering teachers an average 16
percent pay rise over four years and sweetened benefits such as
paid maternity leave and picking up most of the costs of
pensions, which critics say already gives the union too much.
For the second day, Obama was silent on the Chicago strike
which pits his ally Emanuel against organized labor, a key
supporter of the president.
Obama's Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a former Chicago
schools chief, issued a statement on Tuesday that avoided taking
sides in the dispute even though his own education plan includes
some of the reforms sought by Emanuel.
Republicans have sought to exploit the divisions within the
Democratic coalition by publicly supporting Emanuel.
While Chicago and Obama's home state of Illinois are
expected to vote for him in November, a prolonged strike could
make it harder for Obama to motivate unions to get out the vote
in key Midwest swing states such as Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio.
Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee teachers union in
Wisconsin, said some of his members were wearing red in
solidarity with the Chicago union. Most teachers support Obama
for many reasons, not just his education policy, Peterson said.
But some independent-minded union members might be affected
in Milwaukee, he said, where a big Obama vote is crucial to the
president winning the state on Nov. 6.
"If the strike isn't settled, it could (hurt) the Obama
campaign and my hope is that the mayor of Chicago gets it
together and finds a way to settle the strike," Peterson said.