Last Updated:November 26 @ 10:55 am

Chicago teacher's union ready to strike

By Don Babwin

CHICAGO (AP) - Elfega Cazares isn't taking sides in the standoff between the Chicago Teachers Unionand Chicago Public Schools over contract talks. Like many of the immigrant parents in the city's Pilsen neighborhood, she knows her children stand to lose the most if teachers walk off the job next Monday.

"It is very important that we stay in school so we can be prepared to be someone in life," Cazares said, her 10-year-old son Francisco Vasquez translating for her from Spanish.

But students across the city, most of whom return to school Tuesday, could find themselves out of the classroom again Sept. 10.

At a time when teachers' unions are under pressure nationwide, union President Karen Lewis said more than 26,000 teachers and support staff in the nation's third-largest school district are prepared to strike for the first time in 25 years. It would be the first big-city strike in the U.S. since Detroit teachers walked off the job for 16 days in 2006. The last Chicago teachers strike was in 1987 and lasted 19 days.

School officials and parents shifted into high gear after the union issued a 10-day strike notice last week, trying to decide what to do with 400,000 students, including those in neighborhoods beset by gangs and struggling with a spike in shootings and homicides. District officials said they would chaperone students during the morning in 145 schools, and invited bids from community organizations to provide "positive activities" the rest of the day.

The pending walkout presents other problems, too. College applications would be delayed. Varsity sports, from football to diving, would be suspended for 11,000 athletes. More than 20,000 juniors could miss practice tests for ACT exams.

Near Manuel Perez Jr. Elementary School in Pilsen, an enclave of Mexican immigrants where the public school plays a central role for almost everyone, the concerns were of a long-term nature.

Working-class parents like Cazares say they would have to find a family member or someone to watch their children while they work, but their bigger fear is children will lose ground on attaining the better life the parents uprooted and crossed borders to pursue. In Pilsen, a good education means children won't have to follow their parents into low-paying jobs.

"They tell us how they didn't get an education, that we must get one for our future," said 19-year-old Connie Diego, whose younger brother is in fifth grade. "We couldn't ever miss even a day because our parents tell us about all the benefits we have there and how where they came from they didn't have anything."

Local activist Fernando Rayas points to children like Vasquez, who must help their immigrant parents communicate. Students learn English at school, he said, not at home. Depriving them of the opportunity, he said, means "they will fall behind."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who lengthened the school day this year and says he wants to better hold teachers accountable for student performance, has a lot riding on the negotiations. So do teachers, who are upset Emanuel canceled a previously negotiated 4 percent raise and fear the district wants merit-only raises tied solely to student achievement. The two sides appeared to have settled a primary issue when they agreed laid-off teachers would be rehired to cover the longer school day instead of paying existing teachers more, but bargaining and posturing over several remaining issues has continued.

Emanuel — and the contract negotiations— will be in the national spotlight this week, just days before the strike date: He's scheduled to address the Democratic National Convention.

In Pilsen, people are quick to point out how important the school is to the entire community, located southwest of downtown.

Ninety-five percent of the 430 preschool-through-eighth-grade students at Perez elementary qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, Principal Vicky Kleros said. Even so, it's been designated as a fine- and performing-arts magnet cluster school, earned a Level 1 ranking for academic performance. It also was one of the first CPS schools to implement the rigorous new national Common Core curriculum, meant to improve performance in subjects such as math and reading.

Perez is also an important neighborhood resource, a place where parents can take courses in technology, learn to read and write English and work toward a general equivalency diploma, Kleros said.

And like parents in many other Chicago neighborhoods, those in Pilsen simply can't afford for their children to not be in school. Showing up late or leaving early from a job can mean unemployment, Rayas said.

"They need the school so THEY can function," he said.

Perched on the steps of the neighborhood's squat, red-brick buildings, parents spoke of a school that made them feel special, one with kind and hard-working teachers who hopefully will receive a hefty raise.

Christina Adame lights up when she talks of how Kleros stopped her on the street to tell her how well her 11-year-old son performed on a standardized test.

"The principal said that to me," she said, still sounding amazed.

Single mother Danielle Hernandez moved here in March so her son could get help with ADHD and Tourette's syndrome, things that weren't available at his school in the western suburbs.

"He's getting speech therapy and it's helping him a lot; his grades are getting better," said Hernandez, a waitress whose two younger children attend Perez's Head Start program. "A teacher called yesterday. They're good people."

If there is a strike, Kleros said the school would be open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every school day so children still could eat breakfast and lunch and participate in activities. After that, library and park district buildings will be open — all part of a $25 million school district strike contingency plan.

Even students, in Pilsen and in other Chicago neighborhoods where gangs and drugs have long been problems, recognize that less time in school means more time for trouble to find them. Fifth-grader David Quach said as much last week while playing basketball.

"For kids, it (school) gets you out of the street," he said.

___

Associated Press writer Tammy Webber contributed to this story.

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16 Comments

  1. inluminatuoComment by inluminatuo
    September 4, 2012 @ 8:29 am

    Chicago Teachers threaten to go on strike in a week, Are there enough babysitters to replace them? Don’t blink when the Rahm Emanuel and Democrat leaders just fork over more borrowed taxpayer cash to them with your kids having to pony up later for the IOU’s in the future. No Kids there is no free lunch and it will be you who pays for the debt.

    Parents will soon come to understand how reliable a source from whom all blessings flow the socialist God-men are, when their kids lose their babysitter and their free breakfasts and lunches, and Parents again have to assume responsibility for being real parents like the ones I had in the “Black and White” 1950’s that Obama mocks so well in his vapid speeches. Give me Ward and June Cleaver any old day over these unprincipled God-Men who cannot even run an honest campaign let alone an honest debate that just raises up dishonest children with like mouths open and hands out just like their socialist bred union parents. Welcome to the two edged sword of socialist union organizing. Too bad the democrat and union leaders did not receive the kind of speech therapy I got back in school in the 50’s,,,,it is called “Speak the Truth”.

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  2. BillzillaComment by Billzilla
    September 4, 2012 @ 9:47 am

    If they strike… fire them! Public employees should never strike, I was one for thirty years.

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    • inluminatuoComment by inluminatuo
      September 4, 2012 @ 10:05 am

      Reagan had the right idea with the Air Traffic Controllers who haven’t blinked a complaint since. Military trained controllers stepped in and won that battle. Do we have Teachers in the military? Our kids might get some real lessons on how to concoct a plan of attack, face the enemy and actually win the battle of life.

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    • nickster99Comment by nickster99
      September 4, 2012 @ 10:39 am

      They will strike and manual will give them what they want. And us taxpayers in Crook County will be paying the bill as usual. This state ***** and if I could leave without taking a huge loss on my house I would be leaving! Indiana is only 11 miles east.

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    • pistol packing mamaComment by txgoatlady
      September 4, 2012 @ 11:27 am

      With the onerous tax burden in Chicago, you might be able to make up the loss on your house in just a few years by moving out of that place.

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    • inluminatuoComment by inluminatuo
      September 4, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

      I left Illinois for Texas years ago and got a $4000/year raise immediately by not have to pay that nasty illinois state income tax. Gasoline here was 15-20% cheaper and I bought the same size house but newer for two thirds of the price I got for my house in Illinois. Ya all come on down where the men are still men and the sheep have been flocked.

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  3. popstComment by popst
    September 4, 2012 @ 10:49 am

    Let them strike. Many of them are no smarter than their students. Maybe the kids will learn more because they are NOT in school. When congress passed the “Not Child Left Behind” act, schools started teaching for the tests and not what would be best for the students. “NCLB” was the worst piece of legislation that was passed by congress and signed by Bush. It’s tough not to leave a child behind when their parent(s) can’t even get them to the bus. Go ahead and strike. For every teaching job in Chicago there are at least 100 people standing in line to take it.

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  4. middlegroundComment by middleground
    September 4, 2012 @ 11:18 am

    Amazing! The school teachers of Chicago want more money or underfunded benefits.

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  5. librabobComment by librabob
    September 4, 2012 @ 11:57 am

    State governors,legislators and mayors need to put an end to government unions once and for all. These people work for the tax payers, they are civil servants. They should never be allowed to negotiate salaries and benefits with the very people they helped get elected. It’s corruption pure and simple. It is the state employee unions and crooked politicians who have brought many states on the verge of bankruptcy. It is way past time to end this financial nightmare.

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    • inluminatuoComment by inluminatuo
      September 4, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

      Governors, legislators and mayors are suppose to represent management in these negotiations, but many have just become bought and paid for operatives of the unions they represent instead of representing the interests of the people who elected them. Enter Kick back Democrat Senator, Governor Jon Corzine in New Jersey who was literally sleeping with the enemy teachers union leader and was finally tossed out of office By Chirs Christy to go back to the former CEO of Goldman Sachs business world as CEO at MF Global where he lost/misplaced a few hundred million dollars of what should have been investor segregated money somewhere in his business investments gone bad. He now faces jail time like most who can’t segregate sanity from criminality or government management from teacher union employees.

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  6. fallschComment by fallsch
    September 4, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

    inluminatuo. Yes there are. They’re called Drill Sergeants. They will get through to you very quickly and efficiently and not just due to the volume of their voices.

    I hate to see the students suffer but they are reminding everyone just how selfish some unions can be right before the elections.

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  7. JDZComment by JDZ
    September 4, 2012 @ 1:01 pm

    The public service unions (teachers, prison guards, administration, police, etc.) should never been allowed to unionize to start with, but to give them collective bargaining rights was pure stupidity and you can blame Democtratic politicians for all of this. Every state and city are especially in trouble in that the unions have basically taken control and dictate policy as well as their lavish and unsustainable salaries and benefits. They now own the liberal politicians they helped elect. Major teachers unions and the SEIU have become the fourth leg of these state and city governments and threaten to strike every time they do not get their way. This is extortion taken to the worst place in our country…our governments. Something has to be done soon about these mafia like union leaders and wealthy organizations because they are taking down the country and refuse to renegotiate any of their work agreement or benefit packages. It is insanity and basically unAmerican. Unions once were a good thing…but now have become an extremely unscrupulous and undermining power within our country.

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  8. CharlieComment by vietnamvet
    September 4, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

    Tell ‘em now (before they strike) that any who go on strike will be summarily fired, and their jobs will be made available to new applicants.

    Those that remain on the job, most probably, will be the kind of teacher you would prefer to have in school.

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  9. jimnjoyComment by jimnjoy
    September 4, 2012 @ 7:36 pm

    My children have had excellent teachers and have had teachers that should have been doing something else. I think the school district had more than enough evidence to fire the teachers that were not getting the job done, but were intimidated by the unions. The school district should have documented, documented, documented. Teachers should not be rated on the performance of the children because there are too many variables with children in the classroom. For instance: What educational support are the children getting at home? What drama/trama is going on in their lives? What did they have to eat for the last days, weeks, months? What kind-of sleep are they getting? And, a thought that no one wants to admit out-loud: Did they inherit their parent’s low intelligence and are actually doing as well as could be expected under the circumstances? What criteria are the teacher’s going to be rated on, and by whom? I’ve known incompetent administrators who were intimidated by excellent teachers and tried to get rid-of them because the teacher’s were making them look bad. Thank-God the teachers had a union to represent and support them. Common sense should always prevail, but the unions are evidently necessary evils.

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  10. freedomfighterComment by freedomfighter
    September 5, 2012 @ 1:13 am

    REALLY,?.
    In the worst Economy in forever, and unemployment at minimally 8.2%, Unions still have the unmitigated Gaul to strike for higher wages, and better benefits packages.
    Is our economy really as bad as we believe it is?. Are the unemployment figures actually correct, for such a openly brazen slap in the face to the multitudes of Americans out of work, and under valued in the jobs they must seek, to feed, clothe their Families, try to pay their bills and over inflated mortgage payments, compared to their qualifications and educations?.
    Is this where our Administration is really leading us?. Even while the Nobamas take lavish vacations at the taxpayers expense. Last I heard, we the people own the Government, Small Businesses own the Government, and yet, it stabs us in the hearts every time things don’t go to suit their over spending, over borrowing, living lavishly on our dime, agendas.
    I have so had enough. If America, and we the People, are so blind that we cannot see what is being done to us, then possibly we deserve the fate which is sure to descend upon us if the next 4 years are given to the LEFT. If they win this election, ALL OF AMERICA LOOSES. You can take that to the pawn shop.

    MUST TAKE OUT THE TRASH IN NOVEMBER,
    TO PRESERVE AMERICA AS A NATION OF FREE PEOPLE.

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  11. captdotComment by captdot
    September 5, 2012 @ 10:03 pm

    Wait a minute! Michelle Obama just said yesterday, “I have seen the very best of the American spirit…I’ve seen it in teachers in a near-bankrupt school district who vowed to keep teaching without pay”. You mean this isn’t true that the teachers are so altruistic? I’m crushed!

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