CHICAGO — CPS students are back in the classroom Thursday, but the threat of a teachers' strike remains.
The good news for Chicago Public Schools parents and students is the Chicago Teachers Union and the district remain at the bargaining table, negotiating three times a week. But the bad news is teachers have scheduled a strike authorization vote.
At an event made for TV cameras Thursday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, CPS CEO Janice Jackson and Phoenix Military Academy students celebrated the district's accomplishments. Jackson called it a, "district on the rise."
"Our kids are succeeding in remarkable ways," Lightfoot said. "Chicago’s class of 2019 received nearly $1.5 billion in college scholarship offers."
But kids might be forced to stay home if the CTU walks off the job. Late Wednesday, CTU's House of Delegates decided union members will vote whether to strike sometime between September 24 and September 26. The soonest they can strike is October 7.
According to CTU President Jesse Sharkey, the mayor and CPS are not willing to put their stated commitment to support services in writing. Sharkey said the board and the union are "far apart on a number of key, key issues."
Mayor Lightfoot’s latest offer includes a 16 percent pay raise over five years, but the union continues to demand librarians and nurses at every school, more bilingual support, smaller classes and a pay raise for paraprofessionals.
"There’s no reason we should disrupt school with a strike. There’s no reason for it," Lightfoot said. "We put a very generous offer on the table both in compensation, staffing positions, investment in early learning, investments in school infrastructure, let’s get a deal done."
Chicago has been here before. In 2016, the union threatened to walk off the job, but a deal was reached in the eleventh hour. In 2012, with union president Karen Lewis and Mayor Rahm Emanuel battling, the teachers went on strike.
"The schools suffered through a decade of cuts, privation of freezes and furloughs while the city had relative health," said the CTU's Jesse Sharkey.
But negotiations are different in some ways, with a new mayor and both sides saying they don’t want a work stoppage.
"There ought to be a way to find a middle ground or a three-year plan" political analyst Dick Simpson explains. "I don’t see it as bad as when Rahm and Karen Lewis were calling each other names and Rahm was forcing confrontations. That isn’t the atmosphere this time."