Parent, community groups back teachers strike, call for end to financial ‘chaos’

Photo at top: Steven Ashby of the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign says many parents will stand with teachers if they decide to walk. (Emily Olsen/MEDILL)

By Meredith Francis and Emily Olsen

If Chicago teachers walk, some parents will be right behind them. More than 50 parent and neighborhood organizations threw their support behind the Chicago Teachers Union Tuesday during a City Hall rally as the city prepares for a possible strike next week.

Sherise McDaniel says she knows a strike could be hard for working parents, but still called it “necessary.” (Meredith Francis/MEDILL)

“I really feel like this is necessary because if we don’t push back now, the cuts will just keep happening,” said Sherise McDaniel, a CPS parent of an 11-year-old and 18-year-old attending North Side schools. “We already have libraries with no librarians to operate them. I mean prisons have libraries.”

McDaniel is a member of Parents 4 Teachers, one of 52 community groups urging the district for more money for special education teachers, librarians, social workers, nurses and smaller class sizes. Organizations, including Arise Chicago, the Pilsen Alliance and Black Lives Matter Chicago said they will picket with teachers.

The teachers union announced last week it would strike on Oct. 11 if a labor contract couldn’t be reached between CTU and the Board of Education, appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Union officials said teachers have been working without a contract since July 2015.

Parent groups and CTU frequently call for CPS to use leftover dollars from tax increment financing, the city program that provides extra tax money for neighborhood development. CTU said the TIF surplus is an alternative to taking money out of teachers’ paychecks.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool has called the threatened  strike “disappointing”: “It would halt the great progress that our kids are making and it would create an enormous burden for CPS families.”

Rose McDonagh says her 17-year-old son with autism is successful today because of the teachers who helped him. (Emily Olsen/MEDILL)

Rose McDonagh, a CPS parent whose 17-year-old son with autism attends Vaughn Occupational High School, said it was special ed teachers who helped her son improve. He was non-verbal but now performs in a theater group and has played the violin for eight years. She said a strike may be necessary to draw attention to large classroom sizes and staff layoffs.

“The teachers and staff are passionate and devoted,” McDonagh said. “They work hard alongside my son as well as other students until they reached their full potential. They deserve to be paid fairly.”

Money from the TIF surplus isn’t a permanent solution, said Ron DeNard Sr., CPS vice president of finance.

“The TIF surplus is a one-time revenue source, and that amount changes year to year,” DeNard said in August. “I think we can all agree that this is not a true fix to our budget issues.”

Erica Clark with Parents 4 Teachers disagrees. She said the group has been pushing an ordinance that would funnel the TIF surplus to city schools. She says the ordinance, which 38 aldermen have sponsored, has stalled in the finance committee.

“This bill is not a one-time stopgap,” Clark said. “In any year that CPS is in financial straits … that TIF surplus would come back to CPS automatically.”

The district is already making plans in the event of a strike. CPS announced Tuesday it will keep school buildings open for students, and the park district and city’s public libraries will also open their doors for those who need a place to go.

Steven Ashby, a member of the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign and labor historian, said parents want “the constant chaos of layoffs and cutbacks” to end.

“The mayor has the power,” Ashby said, “but he must find the will to side with the people of Chicago and not with the super-rich in this city.”

Photo at top: Steven Ashby of the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign says many parents will stand with teachers if they decide to walk. (Emily Olsen/MEDILL)