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Chicago teachers set Sept. 10 strike date; CPS to open half-day schools

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard CTU President Karen Lewis.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and CTU President Karen Lewis.

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Updated: October 1, 2012 5:48PM

The Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates unanimously agreed Thursday to send members out on a strike of the nation’s third-largest school district starting Sept. 10, with their leader declaring “enough is enough.”

Chicago Public School officials responded by hammering home the impact of the first Chicago teachers strike in 25 years: 350,000 students would be kept from classrooms, 11,000 athletes would be denied varsity sports, and the transcripts and recommendations of 20,000 seniors would be “put on hold.’’

“If our priority is our kids, then strikes should never be an option,’’ Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said in an emailed statement.

Some 700 Chicago Teachers Union delegates thundered “aye” Thursday after CTU President Karen Lewis put forward a motion to set Monday, Sept. 10 -- the beginning of the second week of school for most kids -- as a strike date. The union hall fell silent as Lewis asked for “nay” votes, observers said.

The sentiment on the floor and in schools, Lewis told reporters afterwards, was: “Enough is enough. We’re done. . . .

“We’ve said from the beginning that we are tired of being bullied, belittled and betrayed. We’ve done everything that’s been asked of us and we continue to be vilified and treated with disrespect.’’

Thursday’s action followed Lewis’ decision Wednesday to file an “intent to strike’’ notice that allows the union to wage a walkout at any time after 10 days of labor peace.

That made Sept. 10 the earliest possible day for a strike. The delegates made it official Thursday.

At least one possible loophole remains. Late in the afternoon on Sept. 5 -- the second day of school for most kids -- the House of Delegates is having its regular monthly meeting. If substantial enough progress is being made at the bargaining table, delegates could cancel or delay the strike date during that meeting.

Lewis said Chicago Public School officials have not budged from the “last, best” salary and wage offer they placed in May before a fact finder who ultimately declared the relationship between the two sides “toxic.’’

At that time, the CPS was offering four years of two percent raises and the halt of all “step and lane’’ salary bumps for seniority and credentials.

Teachers have derided the offer as “insulting,’’ contending it does not reflect the 4 percent negotiated raise they were denied this past school year and the 10 extra days they are being required to work this school year.

“We do not want a strike but apparently the Board does,’’ Lewis said.

In the next 10 days, Lewis urged, parents should call CPS officials and “put pressure on them to settle this.’’

In the event of a strike, CPS officials say, 11,000 student athletes would be left in the lurch. Games and practices would be canceled in the fall varsity sports of football, soccer, swimming, diving, cross country, golf, softball, tennis and volleyball

As a result, CPS officials sent a letter Thursday to the Illinois High School Association, asking that they be allowed to explore “an exception’’ to current bylaws that prohibit athletic teams from practicing during a strike. Some 90 percent of CPS coaches are CTU members, but teams can practice if they have properly credentialed coaches, the letter noted. The letter did not directly say the system wanted to use non-CTU members as coaches, but it did say “we would like to explore an exception that could allow our students to continue with Varsity sports in the event of a strike.’’

Also Thursday, CPS officials started reaching out to parents — through letters, text messages, robo-calls and in a “tele-town hall” meeting — to reassure them that their children will be fed, supervised and occupied in the event of a teachers strike.

The plan that could cost up to $25 million includes opening 145 schools between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in the event of a strike. The schools will be staffed by principals, assistant principals, central office employees, parent volunteers and other non-CTU staff.

Elementary and high school students will be housed in separate facilities, but all participating students will receive a cold breakfast and lunch “that meet USDA requirements,” officials said. Parents will be able to register their kids online.

A so-called “request-for-proposals” (RFP) due back Tuesday invites community groups, non-profits and other organizations to help “staff schools and provide non-instructional programming.” The request requires no more than 25 students for every staff member, a “security-to-student ratio” capped at 100 to 1 and that all supervisors staff be required to pass background checks.

“While academic instruction will not be provided [because it’s prohibited by law during a teachers strike], students will participate in positive activities to keep them engaged,” according to a CPS fact sheet distributed Thursday. “Examples include arts, sports, journaling, independent reading and writing, puzzles and computer-based programs.”

As many as 80 Chicago Park District summer camps could be extended to accommodate students and 79 public libraries could be opened to them.

The fact sheet does not list specific schools that would be open during a strike.

It simply states that schools will be chosen based on size and location, “with preference given to those with strong leadership, air-conditioning, a gym and cafeteria, computer labs and proximity to public transportation.”

Without offering details, the fact sheet states that CPS is also working with the CTA and the Police and Fire Departments to “ensure safety and provide additional services.”

Among the other impacts of a strike: High school seniors who need to have their transcripts, ACT scores and teacher recommendations forwarded to colleges would see delays. Twenty-thousand high school juniors could miss practice tests for the ACT. And International Baccalaureate students could miss “key coursework needed to prepare for exams.”

In his letter to parents, guardians and caregivers, Brizard describes the contingency plan as “merely a precaution” and states, “We have every hope and expectation that we will not have to implement it.” However, he says, “We must be prepared.”

Lewis Thursday questioned the effort spent on the contingency plan.

“Instead of the board making contingency plans, they need to settle the problem,’’ she said.

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