School's Out In Chicago Thanks to a Massive Teacher's Union Strike

Chicago's public school students are almost certainly thrilled to have the day off from school today thanks to the Chicago Teacher's Union's ongoing strike, the first of its kind in a quarter century. But most everyone else — parents and city officials alike — is pretty pissed off.

CTU President Karen Lewis said the strike was an "education justice fight" during a press conference late last night. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city had already conceded to many of the union's demands and that this is "a strike of choice." According to Lewis (via the Huffington Post), the union is striking over issues ranging from contract negotiations, teacher evaluations, and class size to a lack of proper air conditioning. But Emanuel said there are only two issues still on the table: a principal's right to hire teachers and a law that requires standardized tests to initially count for one quarter of all teacher evaluations. Air conditioning, apparently, is not a primary concern.

So far, the city's conceded on some other points:

On Sunday, CPS officials such as School Board President David Vitale and CTU leadership — not including Lewis — holed up in a negotiation room for hours. In the tense weeks before, the Associated Press reports, the district offered CTU a 2 percent raise for four years. Incensed, the union was quick to point that a snip-happy Emanuel had nixed a 4 percent raise just the year before, and in turn, asked for a 30 percent raise over two years. According to the AP, Lewis told union officials weeks ago that CTU would accept a raise as low as 19 percent. On Sunday, according to CPS, Vitale offered a 16 percent raise over the next four years, in addition to new job opportunities for laid off teachers. CPS also offered its first-ever paid maternity leave, and the joint implementation of teacher evaluations.

But the CTU still won't compromise, which some parents think will hurt their cause. "People are actually surprised by how much CPS conceded. It seems like they did give in a lot," Wendy Katten, a parent and activist who runs a group called Raise Your Hand for IL Public Ed, told The Huffington Post. "CTU is trying to show that they have the ability to shape public education, and that they're not going to be trampled on. It can't just be about small specifics — to strike over air conditioner, I don't know." Other parents said they'd rather pay for private school than have to deal with no school.

For now, local organizations are holding activities in places like churches and non profits so public school students aren't just messing around — but kids can only play even semi-responsible Peter Pan for so long. Will the city give in?

Chicago Teachers Strike: Union, Emanuel Disagree On Bottom Line [Huffington Post]