Outrage over failed contract negotiations will come to a head Wednesday when members of the Chicago Teachers Union descend on City Hall.
Their mission: To secure more support staff, higher raises and class-size limits in the country’s third biggest school district.
About 300,000 students are missing a fifth day of classes Wednesday as the union and city officials blame each other for prolonging the teachers’ strike.
As the stalemate drags on, some students are playing board games or making origami instead of learning in class. Now, some parents are torn about which side to support.
“I support both sides, but I think they need to come to a mutual agreement and give a little on both sides because they’re only hurting the kids,” said Dominique Williams, the mother of two daughters in high school.
The city has offered some concessions to the union, but said it can’t afford to meet all their demands.
So the showdown at City Hall could mark a turning point in the strike.
‘Things are just getting more and more chaotic’
One of the greatest needs is for more social workers in schools. That’s especially true in Chicago, where many students struggle with poverty, violence and grief at a very young age.
“Everything is so different from the way it used to be. It seems like things are just getting more and more chaotic as the years go by,” said Williams, the mother of two on the city’s tough west side.
“A lot of these kids do need help. … Some of these kids do need that social worker because they can’t talk to their parent. Or they can’t talk to their friend. So they’ll talk to that social worker because it’s a separate entity away from what they got going on.”
One school social worker said she has to split her time between four buildings and 1,039 students.
“I’m tired of telling kids that I can only be there 1 1/2 days of the entire week,” she said. “We can’t plan our crises according to when I’m there.”
Darian Martyniuk, the father of two elementary school students, said he appreciates what the teachers are fighting for. But they may be asking too much from Chicago Public Schools.
“While I think the teachers have some noble and worthy demands that need to be addressed, I think the union leadership is at best behaving cynically, at worst using whatever leverage they think they have to squeeze the most out of a system that doesn’t have anything left to give,” Martyniuk said.
“Additional staffing like librarians, nurses, counselors … there are legitimate teacher needs for more. But the union leadership doesn’t seem to understand the finance structure of CPS and how it is a limited pool of money. You can’t just keep raising taxes year after year because legally they can’t do that.”
‘I’m pissed,’ one mother says
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she and the union want some of the same improvements for students — but it’s time for the union to stop striking.
“There is a finite pot of money. We don’t have unlimited cash to keep funding the things that are aspirational and maybe things that, on values that we share,” Lightfoot said.
“We have to live within our means. That’s what the taxpayers expect of us, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Williams says both sides need to resolve their differences quickly.
“I’m pissed at the fact that the kids have been out for so long,” she said. “They need their class time.”