By Jayette Bolinski | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — Into its second week, the Chicago teachers strike offers a host of known unknowns — the strike’s actual cost and duration, the outcome of negotiations, and court intervention.
But one thing is certain, the strike has affected the children, particularly the neediest and most vulnerable among them, as the school district scrambles to provide them with food and safety.
The immediate loss of instruction and safety is evident now, but the impact of the strike and the public’s loss of confidence in a struggling school system will be felt for years to come.
For now, officials don’t know what the historic strike — the first since 1987 — is costing the Chicago Public Schools system and taxpayers each day, a spokeswoman said Monday.
For now, a Cook County judge declined to rule Monday on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s request for a temporary restraining order to end the strike, because the strike could end any day now.
For now, the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates is expected to vote on a tentative contract deal Tuesday. Best-case scenario is students could be back in school Wednesday, after seven days away from their classrooms.
CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said the costs to the taxpayer, like the contract negotiations themselves, are a tangle of “several variables.”
“We don’t know how many days it will continue, and we don’t know how many students we’ll be serving at our Children First sites,” she said.
Children First sites are 147 Chicago school locations where the neediest of the district’s 402,000 students can receive two meals each school day. The students have nowhere else to go and qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches. The sites are staffed with volunteers and CPS administrative staff, so there will be some cost associated with it, but it’s unclear how much at this time, Ziegler said.
“We have a real need to make sure we’re helping to feed our student body, as well as provide a safe and engaging place to go during the day because not everybody has alternate options,” she said. “So the cost of this strike largely will be related to what we need to do around providing these services through these Children First sites.”
The district does not receive government funding on days when children are not in school, but it will receive money on days that would have to be made up as a result of the strike.
Two major sticking points remain in the contract negotiations: a new teacher-evaluation system and job security.
Cook County Judge Peter Flynn on Monday declined to hold an immediate hearing on the city’s request for a temporary restraining order, saying there could be a hearing Wednesday.
The city filed a request for the temporary restraining order, saying the strike violates state law, which prohibits teachers from striking over such matters as layoff and recall policies, teacher evaluations, class sizes and length of the school day and year.
“The CTU’s repeated statements and recent advertising campaign have made clear that these are exactly the subjects over which the CTU is striking,” reads the city’s motion.
The city also said the strike should be ended for public health and safety issues, including providing nutritious meals and a safe environment for students.
In a statement, CTU fired back, saying the city’s motion was vindictive.
“CPS’s spur-of-the-moment decision to seek injunctive relief some six days later appears to be a vindictive act instigated by the mayor,” the statement reads. “This attempt to thwart our democratic process is consistent with (Emanuel’s) bullying behavior toward public school educators.”
Regardless of the cost, Chicago’s public school students, especially those from poor families, will pay the highest price for the strike, said Jessica Handy, policy director at Stand for Children Illinois, which champions issues related to public education and graduation rates.
“The strike in ’87, that went on for 19 days. Ultimately, it was resolved, but so many children left the district. If they could afford to, they went to private school or to the suburbs if their families could make that sacrifice. If they couldn’t, the kids stayed here and missed school 19 days,” she said.
“The district laid off 700 positions, and with the savings from those layoffs they were able to afford the raises from the strike. Who won there? I think it was unfair for the children and the families and Chicago and the mayor and the union and the teachers. It didn’t serve anybody well. It depleted enrollment and hurt the neediest children the most.”