As negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools continue, the union announced Thursday that, according to their own informal polling, support for a strike among the city's public school teachers is widespread.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said that teachers are "fed up" when it comes to the "hostile" climate teachers are currently dealing with, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. At least 75 percent of the teachers polled at 150 schools reportedly support striking should the city and union not agree on a contract.
"Chicago teachers and paraprofessionals are fed up. They are tired of being blamed, bullied and belittled by the very district that should be supporting them," Lewis said, according to the Sun-Times. "They live in a city that has done everything it can to take the joy out of teaching and learning."
Teachers are reportedly angered by the CPS's proposal to move toward a merit-based pay model where raises are based upon a new evaluation system based heavily on student growth, including their test scores, according to the Sun-Times. National researches have blasted the merit pay model, saying that the "new evaluation system for teachers and principals centers on misconceptions about student growth, with potentially negative impact on the education of Chicago’s children."
Teachers are also frustrated by the longer school day, which will be implemented in the coming school year, recent school closures and proposed benefit cuts, ABC Chicago reports. Teachers and parents at some schools say the district is forcing them into the longer day without a plan as to what they will do with the extra time -- and in some cases, without the money to do much of anything.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded to the union's announcement by stating, according to ABC, "Don't take away from your main mission. Your job, what the people of the city of Chicago, the parents, the taxpayers expect of you, which is to teach our children. Any time away from that is time away from our children. And remember, what you're here for is to teach our children."
CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard suggested to WBEZ that talk of a strike amidst ongoing negotiations crossed a line.
"We shouldn't be talking about the 'S-word,'" Brizard said Thursday, according to WBEZ. "Let's talk about finding a way to work together to improve a system that will benefit nearly a half million children."
Lewis has previously suggested that teachers strike. Last summer, after the state legislature passed a law cutting into teachers' abilities to negotiate their contracts, modifying tenure and opening the door for a longer school day and year with no guarantees of additional pay, Lewis commented that the chances of a strike was "very high."
Chicago teachers have not gone on strike since 1987. In order to do so this time around, the union will need to attain the support of 75 percent of union members -- rather than just half, as previously required -- and will also face a newly drawn-out strike timeline, the Chicago Tribune reports. The earliest the union could implement a strike is August.