Contract talks between Chicago’s school board and its teachers union were locked in negotiations Monday evening, making it increasingly likely that the city’s first teachers strike in a quarter century would go into a second day.
While thousands of teachers marched and picketed in front of schools across the city, negotiators from both sides met for on issues that have bogged down contract talks for months – teacher compensation, a re-hire pool for laid-off teachers and job evaluations.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday met with displaced CPS students at Maranatha Church on the South Side, one of 59 faith-based organizations that are serving as “Safe Havens” for students during the strike.
Emanuel sought to reassure parents that CPS was working quickly to resolve the situation and return kids to the classroom. He again characterized the strike as “one of choice” by teachers and said that it could have been avoided.
“It’s the wrong choice for our children,” Emanuel said.
The Chicago teachers strike has national implications for Emanuel, whose education reform agenda is being closely watched by national reformers and labor leaders. A prolonged work stoppage may even have ramifications in the hotly contested presidential election, as both the Obama and Romney camps said Monday they were aware of the escalating conflict and sought to assign blame.
Parents didn’t know what to expect when they dropped off their children Monday at one of the city’s 144 schools that remained open as part of the district’s strike contingency plan. Some had to cross raucous picket lines where teachers were chanting about a fair contracts or banging drums and tambourines.
Vicente Perez encountered this at Ray Elementary School in Hyde Park when he tried to drop off his 4th and 6th grade boys Monday morning.
“I don’t want to go there,” said his youngest son, Kahlil, 9, prompting Perez to reconsider.
Perez called his wife on his cell phone and decided to either take the kids to a church or just keep them home.
At Disney Magnet School on the North Side, John Harvey said he was nervous dropping off his 7-year-old, Aiden, amid all the commotion.
“I don’t know how they feel about us bringing our children,” said Harvey. “We’re a little at odds now. I didn’t know if we were hurting the situation or not. I didn’t know what they were going to do. So I came with my shield up.”
Aiden’s mother, Sarah Vanderstow, said she had concerns dropping the second grader off at an unfamiliar place, but since their usual school, Nettelhorst, was closed, they had no choice.
“I don’t know who these people are who will be watching him and that concerns me,” she said. “But I have to go to work and we can’t afford to pay for him to go somewhere else all day.”
CPS has budgeted to spend up to $25 million to provide temporary shelter for students, meals and organized activities for students between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. for as long as the strike drags on. The 144 schools are largely staffed by principals, central office employees and administrators, but appeared sparsely attended on the first day of the strike, making it unclear how many of the district’s 350,000 displaced students spent the warm late-summer day.
Community parks were filled with children in the Little Village neighborhood on the West Side, as groups of boys played catch with a football and others shot hoops on the basketball court. While some students accompanied their parents to work, others found ways to bide their time at home under the watch of grandparents or extended family.
Anthony Kubik, 11, a student at Clissord Elementary School, spent the Monday watching movies with his grandmother so his parents could go to work. Kubik’s mother, Jill, said the family is wary of sending him to park district programs or the contingency schools because they’re only open a few hours. The contingency schools are open for four hours while designated Chicago Park District locations are set up for CPS children for seven hours.
“We’re just winging it at this point,” said Jill Kubik, a Beverly resident. “He will probably be tagging along with my husband to work.”