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If CPS teachers strike, what will happen to the children?

Karen Lewis president Chicago Teachers Uni(CTU) holds press conference discuss next course acticontract talks with Chicago Public Schools Wednesday August

Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), holds a press conference to discuss the next course of action in contract talks with the Chicago Public Schools on Wednesday, August 29, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 1, 2012 5:34PM

Maybe CTU President Karen Lewis is just rattling her saber by announcing the teachers union has filed a 10-day notice of intent to strike.

After all, at a news conference held later Wednesday, Lewis wouldn’t give even a hint of a strike date.

“We remain at the table and we will be there until we have a contract,” she said emphatically.

Still, I wouldn’t bet on there not being a strike.

The last time there was this much tension in the air, the late Jackie Vaughn, once affectionately referred to as the “dragon lady” by a delegate, was leading the teachers union.

Lewis has proven to be every bit as fiery.

“We will have a contract and it will come the easy way or the hard way,” she said at the news conference.

Only the people inside the room know whether both sides are negotiating in good faith. You talk to the union, representatives swear the sides are still very far apart when it comes to salary and benefits.

When you talk to representatives of the school board, they swear that the union is deliberately dragging out the process in order to put pressure on the mayor.

The only thing that is certain is an overwhelming number of teachers have given the union the go-ahead to strike if it deems a work stoppage is the only way to get a fair contract.

“Who wants a strike? Nobody wants a strike,” said Andrea Parker, a teacher at Curtis Elementary School on the South Side.

“I support better education for our children and right now our children aren’t receiving the best education,” she said.

But in the next breath, Parker, who said she has been teaching seven years, touched on the real sticking point in this negotiation.

“We want all our teachers respected,” she said. “They work hard for our kids every day.”

Unfortunately, the contest between the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union has gotten personal, and that makes it even harder to avoid a walkout.

Parents with children in Chicago Public Schools should definitely be putting together an alternative plan given the rhetoric from the union.

“CPS seems determined to have a toxic relationship with its employees,” Lewis said at the news conference. “[T]hey attempted to ram a poorly-thought-out longer school day down our throats . . . It has been insult after insult after insult.”

Now that Lewis has taken the next step toward a showdown, I’m betting there will be drama.

But a strike would not just be devastating for the mayor, teachers, students and parents.

A strike could further undermine public education in this city.

Chicagoans are fed up.

They are fed up with high gas prices and boarded-up homes. They are fed up with rowdy teens, gangs, shootings and homicides. They are fed up with schools that warehouse kids but don’t educate them.

Indeed, Lewis herself points out “the education crisis is real, especially if you are black or brown.”

“Teachers are losing their jobs and parents have no choice but to keep their child in an under-resourced neighborhood school or ship them off to a poor-performing charter operation,” she argued.

But if teachers strike, parents know it won’t be the kids in charter and private schools who will suffer.

It will be the boys and girls in neighborhood schools — schools that must literally battle the surrounding negative influences to hold their attention.

Increasingly, parents in these struggling communities are discovering options to public education.

That is why thousands lined up to attend the “New Schools for Chicago” fair last spring — desperate to send their kids to a “charter operation.”

The children who are being left behind are the most vulnerable.

So if Mayor Rahm Emanuel has to skip most of the Democratic National Convention next week, then so be it.

If he has to “ratchet it up” to get Lewis and her members to accept a compromise that will not push taxpayers deeper into a sinkhole, then he needs to get cracking.

Because after all is said and done, it is the mayor’s behind on the line.

Parents don’t have a say about who runs the teachers union.

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