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Teachers strike heads to Day Two; Board chief tells union ‘we should resolve this’ Tuesday

Updated: October 12, 2012 6:08AM



Chicago braced for Day Two of a teacher strike Tuesday, with teachers buoyed by a boisterous first day of picketing and contract talks side-stepping what Mayor Rahm Emanuel identified as the two major sticking points.

School Board President David Vitale left the first post-strike talks Monday at 6:40 p.m., saying CPS officials had told the union “We should resolve this tomorrow. We are close enough.’’

However, Vitale conceded negotiators did not even attack what the mayor contended are the two biggest issues in the nine-month dispute: job security and teacher evaluations.

“The union said they were not ready for discussion on those particular issues,’’ said Vitale, leaving behind other Chicago Public School negotiators to continue talks late into the night on “technical issues.’’

Vitale said both sides made proposals, and that they would be analyzed overnight.

“We’re working at this, but this is hard work,” Vitale said. “We want to get this resolved. We want our kids back in school.”

However, when talks concluded three hours later, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the two big issues were not discussed because “they didn’t have anything different to offer us.”

Sea of red

Hours earlier, thousands of striking Chicago teachers flooded the Loop, rallying for a new contract on Day One of the first Chicago teachers strike in 25 years. Police estimated the crowd at 5,000 to 7,000.

A river of red-shirted teachers, waving banners and chanting, clogged South Clark Street during their march from Chicago Public Schools headquarters to City Hall. A frequent chant: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Rahm Emanuel has got to go!”

One of many who expressed delight at the turnout was Susan Kang, a teacher at Sumner Elementary.

“It’s really amazing,’’ said Kang. “This is what we were hoping for — that we’d come out strong and send a message to the [Chicago School] Board and Rahm Emanuel that they can’t just bully us around.’’

The intersection of Clark and Monroe turned into a knot of solid red, clogged with so many people it was hard to move. The constant beat of drums and muffled chants gave the scene almost a carnival atmosphere. And more people kept pouring into the area.

Gisele Anderson, 10, held up a sign that read: “Treat my dad with respect.” Gisele’s father is a teacher at Owen Scholastic Academy.

“We don’t want to strike,” said Gisele’s father, Eric Anderson. “My daughters are both CPS students. As a teacher and a parent, it’s tough for us as well. We have to figure out child care just like everybody else. So we’d like to see this resolved.”

Drawing attention

The strike that stilled the classrooms of the nation’s third-largest school system also drew national attention Monday.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he was “disappointed” in the union for turning its back on negotiations, and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) urged both sides back to the negotiating table.

On the education front, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing took up the CTU’s cause.

FairTest policy analyst Lisa Guisbond called Chicago’s strike “the tip of the iceberg of teacher frustration with so-called ‘reform’ policies, which place the blame on educators for problems largely caused by the impoverished settings in which their students must live.”

Sunday night, Emanuel blasted the walkout as “a strike of choice.’’

On Monday, he urged both sides to “stay at the table and finish it for our children.” In particular, he defended the board’s offer on what to do with laid-off teachers, insisting that principals needed the power to pick their own school teams.

“If we’re gonna hold our local principals in the school accountable for getting the results we need, they need to pick the best qualified [teachers],” the mayor said.

However, CTU officials said the board was not being fair to teachers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. And they feared that number will be on a constant increase, amid CPS plans to close more schools and create more charters that do not hire CTU teachers.

And on teacher evaluations, late Monday CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said “there’s been a truthfulness issue on the question of evaluation,” because the mayor was claiming it was a non-strikeable issue and the union insists it’s strikeable.

Monday morning, teachers showed up in force on picket lines as parents dropped their children off at 144 contingency schools, as well as at parks, libraries and YMCAs.

Many parents expressed frustrations with CPS and Emanuel, while aldermen were virtually unanimous in blaming the union.

Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) brought his son to work Monday as he headed to a third-floor meeting room at City Hall to get briefed on the strike.

Maldonado blamed the union as he walked into the briefing room with his 7-year-old son, Roberto II, carrying a backpack. “This is the effect of the union right now,” said Maldonado, whose wife had the couple’s two other children Monday.

“We’re lucky enough that is not that much of a hardship on us, but it’s a hardship on the kids.”

“The reason that they decided to go on strike is a stretch,” he continued. “If there are no challenges in terms of the financial aspects of the negotiations and the only hang-up is the thing about imposing upon principals to hire laid-off teachers. . . . I need to give [the principal] the flexibility to hire who they perceive to be the best teachers. That’s just logical.”

At Lane Tech High School on the Northwest Side, more than 200 teachers marched along Addison and Western, chanting and prompting numerous motorists to honk their car horns in support. A CTA bus joined the loud chorus of horns, and a Chicago Police car turned on its lights as it went past.

Steve Parsons, the lead picket who teaches AP psychology at the high school, said Monday: “It’s all up to Mayor Emanuel. We all want to go back to the classrooms. The mayor is not valuing our opinions as educators.”

Honking horns of support also greeted the dozens of pickets at Curie High School on the Southwest Side.

Curie’s union delegate, Adam Heenan, who was up until 2 a.m. preparing for the strike, was outside Curie at 6:30 a.m. Monday. He said teachers were “prepared to strike again tomorrow and prepared to go back to the classrooms tomorrow — that’s what we do, we prepare. This is new for everybody.”

About 30 students walked past their picketing teachers to show up at Hefferan on the West Side. That was down from a typical attendance of 260, Principal Jacqueline Hearns said.

At Mount Greenwood Elementary on the Southwest Side, the Ohse family — including Keira, 6, Katie, 4, and Connor, 1 — arrived wearing red T-shirts in support of the striking teachers. “We have two kids here at Mt. Greenwood,” said Barb Ohse, standing with her husband, Rory, “and we’re both union with the fire department, and we’re firm believers in the rights of the students and teachers.

Contributing: Stefano Esposito, Maureen O’Donnell, Rosalind Rossi, Lisa Donovan, Lynn Sweet, LeeAnn Shelton, Francine Knowles, Jon Seidel



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