Chicago teachers on strike, 400,000 students stranded

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NBC Chicago – For the first time in 25 years, teachers in the country’s third-largest public school system hit the picket line.

After a weekend of unsuccessful 11th hour contract negotiations, the Chicago Teachers Union made good on its promise to walk out on more than 400,000 students at 675 schools.

“We have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said.

The strike follows more than a year of slow, contentious negotiations over salary, health benefits and job security after the school board unanimously voted last year to cancel teachers’ 4 percent pay hike in the final year of their contract.

CPS went into full-on strike mode Monday, enacting a plan to keep 144 schools open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. And after a violent Chicago summer, police Supt. Garry McCarthy said he’s “emptying our offices” to patrol the thousands of unsupervised kids on the streets.

“This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could’ve avoided,” Lewis said Sunday. “Throughout these negotiations, we’ve remained hopeful but determined. We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide students the education they so rightfully deserve.”

Moments earlier, Chicago School Board President David Vitale said more than 20 offers had been made to teachers throughout the talks in hopes of preventing a strike.

Still, there was no deal.

“There’s only so much money in the system,” Vitale said. “There’s only so many things we can do that are available to us that we actually believe will not hurt the educational agenda that we think is best for our children.”

He said the deal they put on the table would cover four years and cost the city $400 million.

“Recognizing the board’s fiscal woes,” Lewis said the two sides were not far apart on compensation, which had previously been a major sticking point. Issues preventing a deal Sunday night were health benefits, the teacher evaluation system and job security.

More than 26,000 teachers and support staff began hitting the picket lines Monday morning, while the school district and parents made plans for keeping students safe and occupied during the day. Nearly 150 schools will be open for a half day, as will 60 churches. The Chicago Park District and the YMCA will offer day-camps.

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