Chicago teachers strike enters seventh school day as talks continue
CHICAGO (Reuters) – About 300,000 students in Chicago missed classes for a seventh day on Friday as the city’s teachers union and school district worked to resolve their contract deadlock over class sizes, support-staff levels and pay.
Chicago Public Schools canceled classes for Friday, but the leader of the Chicago Teachers Union said good progress was made during negotiations on Thursday.
“We had conversations that hopefully will give us a path to a settlement,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said at a Friday morning news conference. “Right now I’m guardedly optimistic.”
The union, which represents the city’s 25,000 teachers, has been without a contract since July 1. The strike began on Oct. 17.
The strike is the latest in a wave of teacher work stoppages in cities and states across the United States. Some of the strikes, such as a six-day work stoppage in Los Angeles last winter, have been based on similar school resource demands.
Only a three-week teachers strike in Union City, California, in June was longer this year.
Student athletes are feeling the repercussions, as the strike has forced the cancellation of hugely popular high school football games, with college scholarships on the line, as well as other sports and after-school activities.
That prompted one parent to seek a temporary restraining order in Cook County, Illinois, to allow the child’s team to compete in state cross-country playoffs over the weekend, ABC News said.
Chicago teachers voted to go on strike against the third-largest U.S. school district after contract negotiations failed to yield a deal on pay, class overcrowding and a lack of support staff, such as nurses and social workers.
The strike has been the first major political test for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a political newcomer who was elected in April.
Lightfoot, a progressive Democrat whose campaign promised to reform the school system, has said the district offered teachers a raise of 16% over five years and promised to tackle class sizes and staffing levels.
But she said the district could not afford the union’s full demands, which she estimated would cost an extra $2.4 billion annually, representing more than a 30% increase to the current $7.7 billion school budget.
“While the public is very sympathetic to the issues of more nurses and so on, there’s a pretty good understanding that it just doesn’t come out of thin air and will have to take years of effort to make the schools better,” said Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former Chicago City Council member.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Paul Simao)