by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer
CHICAGO (CBS) — A day after the Chicago Teachers Union set an Oct. 17 strike deadline, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said there is no plan to make up for any lost school days if teachers walk off the job at the Chicago Public Schools, meaning teachers could miss out on some pay.
Last week, 94 % of CTU members voted to authorize a strike. CTU announced Wednesday evening that, if no deal is reached by Oct. 17, teachers will walk off the job.
While CPS has a contingency plan in place to rely on school administrators, non-union workers, and “community partners” to staff schools and keep CPS buildings open during any possible strike, the mayor said Thursday there’s “zero plan” to make up for lost class days.
“I think we have a good plan in place to make sure our kids have a safe, healthy place to go in the event of a work stoppage,” Lightfoot said at a City Hall press conference Thursday morning. “There’s no plan to make up any days. If you look at the CPS website on contingency plans, there’s zero plan to make up any days that might be lost as a result of a work stoppage.”
According to the CPS contingency plans, buildings will stay open during normal school hours, and meals will be provided for students. After-school activities, like tutoring and sports, will be canceled. Chicago Public Library buildings also will be open, along with a limited number of park district facilities, Safe Haven sites, and other alternative sites. The list of sites is available on the CPS website.
Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey said school districts typically extend the school year in the event of a strike to make up for lost days, but said “this isn’t our decision.”
“We don’t get to make that decision. That’s the way the mayor has chosen to spin this, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to try to second-guess that,” Sharkey said. “Our job is to try to keep trying to negotiate a contract, and to stand on what our principles are. And our principles for a long time have been we’re trying to get and secure the schools that Chicago students deserve.”
CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates accused Lightfoot of rehashing an argument her predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, made ahead of the last teachers’ strike seven years ago.
“This is 2019, 2012 that was Rahm’s argument, he’s no longer the mayor,” she said. “We cannot recycle bad arguments from a terrible mayor from 2012 and make them true in 2019.”
Lightfoot said she’s focused on hammering out a new contract with the teachers, and repeated her desire to hold negotiations seven days a week until there’s an agreement.
“We want to make sure that we get a deal done. That’s what we’re focused on. That’s what should happen. Hopefully it will be before October 17th, but we’re going to work every minute that we possibly can to get a deal done,” Lightfoot said. “Our focus should be how do we get to yes. How do we get a deal done so that our kids are safe, our workers are treated fairly, that’s what our focus is on.”
Not making up for lost school days could cost teachers some pay, if the ultimate contract agreement they reach with CPS does not include some form of back pay.
CTU leaders have said the city’s current proposal isn’t good enough for its 25,000 or so members. The district has offered a total 16% pay raise over a five-year contract, while the teachers have proposed a 15% pay raise over a shorter three-year deal. The dispute over pay raises aside, the union wants CPS to hire more social workers, counselors, nurses, and librarians.
Lighftoot has said she already plans to hire more such staff, and CPS has budgeted for the new hires, but the union wants the commitment written into the the next contract.
The teachers also want more teacher prep time and smaller class sizes.
“My story is that last year in my classroom, I had 40 students in my classroom, and that was in second grade – second-grade students, 40 students in our classroom,” teacher Robin Blake Boose said at a CTU rally on Wednesday evening. “And we sit at the bargaining table, and they don’t even want to talk about class size.”
According to published reports, teachers want to add 30 minute of paid prep time to the start of the school day, but are not proposing an increase in the overall amount of time they spend in school.
While Sharkey reportedly has suggested students could spend the teachers’ 30-minute prep time with support staff, Lightfoot said she would not agree to any proposal that would shorten the overall school day for students.
“I can tell you this, definitively: we’re never cheating our kids on the day of instruction. We’re not going to shorten the school day. That’s not going to happen,” she said.
Gates said the dispute over teacher prep time is tied to the teachers’ demand for increased staffing.
“There are not enough adults in our school buildings, there just isn’t,” she said. “One, that’s unsafe, and two, that means we’re not offering a rounded education with a robust curriculum for all of our students in all 77 neighborhoods.”
Gates said the union’s proposals to provide more paid prep time for teachers would allow students the opportunity for art, music, language, and physical education classes at every school.
“Those things are not the norm in every single school in our city. Some schools have them, some schools do not have them. Providing some uniformity to prep time allows for those things across the board,” she said. “That goes to our staffing that we’ve been talking about. That’s not a new proposal.”
Despite the disputes over staffing and teacher prep time, both sides said they have reached an agreement on a number of areas.
The mayor insisted there’s no reason the two sides can’t reach an deal before the Oct. 17 strike deadline.
“We should be going seven days a week from morning till night to get a deal done. There’s a seriousness of purpose. That should be the schedule. That’s what we should show to our children, that we care about them, that we’re taking care of them, and that we’re the adults who are going to be responsible to make sure that their learning experience isn’t disrupted,” Lightfoot said.
Teachers aren’t the only city workers threatening a strike. About 7,500 CPS support staff and 2,500 Chicago Park District workers represented by SEIU Local 73 also have set Oct. 17 strike dates to coincide with the CTU strike deadline.
A teachers’ strike would be the first work stoppage at CPS in seven years, but Lightfoot said she’s not worried that a walkout would be a political embarrassment for her as it was for her predecessor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, or that she needs to use the CTU negotiations to set the stage for ongoing contract talks with police, firefighters, and other city workers.
Emanuel was forced into an unprecedented runoff election against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia three years after the last teachers strike, in large part because of support Garcia received from CTU in the wake of the strike and Emanuel’s later decision to close 50 schools.
“I’m not really focused on the palace intrigue pieces of it. I think it’s important that we, as adults, model the behavior that we want our kids to exhibit, and our focus has to be on them. I have 360,000 children that depend upon CPS every single day, not only for their education, but also for their food, and also for their safety,” she said. “This isn’t about me. This isn’t about my power or not, this is about our children.”