Reporting Jay Levine
CHICAGO (CBS) – About 357,000 Chicago kids were back in their classrooms Wednesday. So were their teachers. But the shock waves from the nine-day teachers’ strike were still being felt, and not only in Chicago.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports Chicago became a beachhead in a much wider battle, with shades of the union fight up north in Wisconsin.
Only, up there, the fight has been about public employee unions in general. In the Chicago area, it’s been teachers’ unions, specifically, with national money pouring in, and both sides playing along.
The Chicago teachers’ strike might be over – with teachers off the picket lines and back in their classrooms – but the battle for the hearts and minds of Chicagoans continues.
A million dollar TV buy put the mayor’s spin all over the airwaves Wednesday. Emanuel discusses the teachers’ contract in the ad, which was funded not by the city or the mayor himself, but by Education Reform Now, a group which has battled teachers’ unions across the country.
“Change is never easy, and this contract certainly wasn’t. But more time in class and more accountability is the right deal for our kids,” Emanuel says in the ad.
At the same time, a group with the website ThankYouUnions.org has been trying to raise money to run its own ad, defending Chicago teachers’ fight for smaller class sizes, better supplies, and air conditioning for all schools.
“This isn’t about politics; it’s about my kids, and the kids in Chicago,” one woman says in the ad.
“We’re in this together – teachers, students, parents, we’re united,” another woman says.
A boy in the commercial says, “I’m standing for my teachers, because they’re standing for me.”
But in Chicago, teachers, students, and parents, haven’t exactly been united in their approach to improving schools.
Bishop Larry Trotter, who staged a symbolic “crucifixion” of his own 4-year-old granddaughter on Tuesday to show his frustration with the teachers’ strike and the harm it caused to students, said there seems to be a constant shift in who holds the high ground on school reform – the mayor and the school district, or teachers.
“It’s back and forth. There’s a winner each day,” Trotter said.
Amy Smolensky, a CPS parent and board member of the parent advocacy group “Raise Your Hand,” said the contract fight between CPS and the teachers has “been very confrontational, and that’s why nobody’s coming out shining.”
Wednesday afternoon, after classes resumed at CPS, Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended his hardline stance on implementing a longer school day by the start of this school year.
“I will never back down from fighting for something that I believe, in my core, is essential for the kids; because the kids in the city of Chicago, in my view, have been cheated, and that was wrong,” he said.
Still, after greeting some of the kids returning to school Wednesday morning, the mayor admitted the tentative teachers’ contract wasn’t all he’d hoped for.
“I don’t describe it as a half a loaf. I’ve said … there are educational goals,” he said. “And I don’t believe the other side – meaning teachers’ union leadership – didn’t get some of the things they wanted. Sure. Thats what a negotiation process is. But we never compromised the real educational objectives.”
Emanuel has not yet explained how he plans to pay for the raises for teachers, or how many schools might have to be closed or consolidated to afford the cost of the teachers’ contract. But he’s won praise from elected officials and others, for setting a precedent they’d like to follow.