Students chime in on teachers strike, and offer solutions

September 11, 2012

(Becky Vevea/WBEZ)
Teachers picket outside McPherson school, where CPS is offering a half-day of activities and meals.

On day two of the Chicago teachers strike, 350,000 kids got another “no school” day.

Outside McPherson Elementary school, teacher Tim Hart held his iPhone up to the mouthpiece of a megaphone.

To the tune of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” teachers marched up and down the sidewalk along Lawrence Avenue holding signs and chatting with each other.  Teachers from nearby schools were directed to picket outside the 144 schools that the district is keeping open for a half day while the strike is going on.

Inside, Heather Connolly, the principal of nearby Ravenswood school, is running one of those sites where kids can go for activities and a couple of meals.

As teachers picket and kids play at McPherson Elementary, school district and union officials headed back to the bargaining table to hash out remaining issues.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and school leaders claim they’re stuck on just two—teacher evaluation and job security.

But union president Karen Lewis said Tuesday afternoon negotiators are not that close and to think a deal would be struck today is “lunacy.”

In a statement, union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said they’ve signed off on only six of 49 sections of the teachers’ contract.

For students, the strike may just be a day off, but on the McPherson playground, a group of students said they have some ideas about how the adults can get them back in school.

“The CPS people they should just like stop it and then just pay ‘em what they need to be paid,” said Christian Garfias.

“But they wanted wanted 19 percent. That’s a lot,” said Ashley Blanco.

I asked them what they thought teachers should be paid and after a little mulling, they decided that a 10 percent raise sounded reasonable.

But they also don’t want the strike to interfere with other vacation days.

“It’s better to go to school and learn right now instead of doing it in the summer,” said Natalia Espino.

The kids said the mayor should step in and help negotiators reach an agreement.

“He should shake their hands and be like, ‘I’m sorry we cannot pay you more but can you please do this for the children.’ But no,” Ashley said.

Emanuel hasn’t been at the table for any of the negotiating sessions.

Instead, Beth Swanson, his deputy chief of staff for education, is there, alongside Board of Education president David Vitale and other top school officials.

The mayor insists he’s been closely involved in what’s going on, but to Ashley, it seems like he could do more.

“The mayor should be more responsible now and take charge of what’s happening….Isn’t he the mayor?” Ashley said.

For a second day in a row, teachers filled downtown streets to put pressure on the school district and city hall.