Chicago teachers' strike: No agreement in sight

Chicago’s first teacher’s strike in nearly three decades is in its second day, with the union and the district failing so far to come to terms. With impatience on the rise – and 350,000 children unable to go to school – the march continues.

­Chicago School Board President David Vitale expressed optimism that an agreement could be reached Tuesday. But members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), who have been negotiating with the city since their contracts expired in June, aren't so sure. Union president Karen Lewis was shocked by Vitale’s suggestion that a deal could be reached so quickly.

Wow,” she told the Chicago Tribune, “that really is up to them.”

The school board is looking for a way to fire higher-paid, senior teachers in exchange for less-experienced, cheaper teachers as part of a greater citywide austerity program.

The Illinois legislature pushed through a new law last year requiring 75 percent of the CTU's members to approve a strike. But the bid to block walkouts backfired, as this June, nearly 90 percent of the union membership – including 98 percent of those who voted – approved the strike.

Teacher evaluations, recalls based on student performance and the merits of standardized testing were issues that led to the strike, but were not discussed in Monday night's talks. The district had no new offers in these areas, so discussions revolved around the details of school day duration instead.

Tuesday’s talks continued at 9:30am, but the strike's end is nowhere in sight.

“I’ll be here as long as I need to,” Christopher Barker, a math teacher, told the Tribune. Meanwhile, more than 350,000 children are out of school as the district fails to reach a settlement.

“This is a long-term battle that everyone’s going to watch,” Eric Hanuskek, a senior fellow in education at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, told the Associated Press. “Other teachers unions in the United States are wondering if they should follow suit.”

The district has kept some schools open as "drop-off" centers for children to go to while their parents are busy or at work. On Monday, about 18,000 students showed up at the 114 open schools, which served breakfast and lunch and provided other activities. Some churches, parks, district building and libraries have also hosted students with nowhere to go.

Rose Davis, the grandmother of two young children, spent Monday walking the kids through a dangerous neighborhood to go to a school in another part of town. Davis spent the day at the school, where she and her grandchildren ate breakfast and lunch, read books, worked on computers and played games with other kids.

Staff at the "drop-off" centers were provided with how-to guides on operating the schools, with shocking admissions of the critical conditions they face.

The guides told staff, for example, to "wear a watch – your room may not have a functioning clock."

While some parents side with teachers and others blame them, the debate is far from over. President Obama has not taken an official stance on the strike, but Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused teachers of turning their backs on students.

“The president said, as he should, that this is a local dispute… This is going to be solved at the bargaining table between the mayor and the teachers union,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told CNN.

And while the debate between the union and the district rages on, some parents are saying the bargaining table is staying open longer than they'd like.

“It’s taking them … more time than we think it should,” Vitale said of the union.

“There is a lot of anger,” said Vicki Turbov, one of the thousands of Chicago teachers working without a contract.

As 29,000 teachers and their supporters take to the streets for the second day in a strike whose end date remains unclear, the first month of school is facing its biggest interruption in a quarter decade – an interruption that is causing frustration and impatience as negotiations between the two parties continue.