CHICAGO — School was out in Chicago today 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 centres, some schools and other public facilities prepared early today 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 three per cent this year and another two per cent annually for the following three years, amounting to an average raise of 16 per cent 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. (Reuters)