A Hope High School teacher walks an informational picket line at Burke Elementary School.

As the deadline nears for Chicago Teachers Union to give notice it could strike on the first day of school, teachers are spending the week holding informational pickets at year-round schools and CPS is making contingency plans.

Friday will be ten days before schools’ planned Sept. 4 start date, and the legal deadline for CTU to issue a legally required 10-day notice of intent to strike. The decision will likely be made at Wednesday’s House of Delegates meeting at 4:30 p.m at Lane Technical High School.

 CTU issued a press release Monday saying the talks were “deteriorating,” and CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey elaborated that negotiations “are just moving too darn slowly.” 

 “We feel like we are trying to move a mountain with a teaspoon,” he said. “There is not enough urgency on the part of the Board to resolve the open issues.”

But CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll called the tone positive. “We have made a lot of progress over the last few weeks,” she says. “And we are hopeful about keeping that momentum moving forward.”

The agenda for Wednesday’s school board meeting includes a resolution authorizing the district to make contingency plans for a strike, ensuring that students can access food and a safe environment – though not instruction, which can legally be provided only by certified teachers who are members of the CTU. Carroll says the resolution is “only a precaution at this point.”

Late Monday, CTU fired another salvo, accusing CPS of intimidating union members. In a memo publicized by the union, CPS asked principals to document any pre-strike walkouts, slowdowns, “work-to-rule” actions or sit-down strikes.

At Burke Elementary School on the South Side, about 10 teachers and community members formed a small circle and chanted various slogans. The principal stood nearby watching.

CTU organizer Kathy Murray pointed out that only the union delegate came out of the school to join the informational picket. Teachers from Hope and King high schools, which are close to Burke, made up the majority of the teachers in the line.

Burke union delegate Stephanie Garrison said the teachers in her school don’t want to strike. Not only will it disrupt the school year for their children, but it also will be a financial hardship on teachers.

Yet Garrison said she is concerned about class sizes and would like for there to be language in the contract limiting the number of children in a class.

“It is hard to be an effective teacher with so many kids,” she said. “We need some kind of help.”

Beatrice Lumpkin, a retired teacher, says she came out to picket because she is concerned about the state of public education in general. She doesn’t like the move toward privatization and the way teachers are treated. But she also is worried about the pension.

“My pension is on the line,” she said.

While gathered outside Cather Elementary School, picketers sang “We Shall Not Be Moved.” They included social worker Carol Hayes, who said it was the second school she had picketed at on Monday.

 “We are helping parents understand the issues,” Hayes said. “The public needs more information. The community was out there, kids were joining us, people were honking.”

She added that she would like to see CPS spend money on more social workers and anti-violence programs in schools.

Sharkey says there’s a list of unresolved issued, including compensation and a recall procedure for laid off teachers.  

CPS is not the only entity making plans in case the teachers strike.

Andrew Broy, president of Illinois Network of Charter Schools, says his office is fielding more than 20 calls a week on the subject – and some charter schools are seeing even more interest.

If a strike were to occur and charter schools saw increased enrollment demand, Broy says, the charters could ask CPS to increase the number of students they’re allowed to enroll.

 A recent 1.5-day strike in Rockford led many parents to call three charter schools there, seeking to enroll. The one charter school that had spots was able to offer them to students, Broy says.

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