CHICAGO — Joined by fellow educators, labor groups and neighborhood activists, the Chicago Teachers Union went out on a one-day strike Friday to protest inadequate state education funding and the ineffectual crisis management of Chicago Public Schools.
Calling it a "day of action," the union and its allies scheduled a full day of protests beginning with picket lines at schools across the city in the morning, followed by rallies at City Hall at 2 p.m. and at the Thompson Center at 4 p.m., culminating in a Downtown march to "shut it down" — "it" apparently meaning the entire Loop area.
Starting at 6:30 a.m. Friday, about 100 teachers were striking outside of Whitney Young Magnet High School, a high-profile selective-enrollment school on the Near West Side.
Reporter Ted Cox on the latest developments in the CPS situation.
Holding signs that read "On Strike" and "These Two Fools Need to Fund Our Schools" bearing the images of Gov. Bruce Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the teachers marched to a medley that included Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."
Whitney Young union representative Ed Dziedzic, who teaches U.S. history at the school, said Whitney Young is in "fine shape" compared to CPS neighborhood schools.
"We are striking for our brothers and sisters and students at South Side and West Side schools that are suffering from a lack" of resources, he said.
Dziedzic said at a closed West Side neighborhood school where his wife taught, young students were taught on desks with sharp edges that looked like they were from the 1930s.
"What message are we sending to those kids? That they are not worthy," he said.
"We're striking for proper learning conditions, proper teaching conditions and having the ability to use education as a springboard for a good life," Dziedzic said. "And if you take that away, then what the hell is America about then?"
As he walked the picket line outside Walter Payton College Prep High School Friday morning, physics teacher Nik Barge said a fundraising effort by the school's parents earlier this year allowed the school to avoid the pain of $700,000 in planned budget cuts.
"But we know that's not the case for other places," Barge said. "We need to stand up for our peers."
At Armour School in Bridgeport, veteran special education teacher Marc Sokolowski was part of the walkout.
"We can't keep balancing the budgets on the teachers," said Sokolowski, who's spent nearly three decades at Armour.
Patty Spagnola was among more than a dozen teachers outside Wildwood Elementary School in Edgebrook.
"The whole message is about equitable funding for schools," said the special education teacher. "It's about funding our futures."
Cathy Notter, a scheduler at Back of the Yards High School, said the state's education funding problems extend far beyond the Chicago Public Schools.
"It's the universities too," said the teacher of 21 years. "If we stop education, just open more jails."
On the Northwest Side, Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) was visiting every school in his ward, saying he has three kids in CPS and it "means the world to me and my wife" to see teachers out Friday morning.
"I support my CPS schools," he said. "I'm a union guy. I know what it's like to stick together."
He said the city has "incredible" schools and many teachers live in his ward.
"It's awesome. A lot of these teachers I grew up with," Napolitano said.
Teachers insisted the one-day strike had nothing to do with ongoing negotiations with Chicago Public Schools for a new contract — talks they've declared at an impasse. Once mandatory legal hurdles are leapt, that could lead to a full-scale strike by late May.
"Teachers are feeling the strain placed on them by principals who have to work with reduced budgets and cuts to special education and other necessary programs," union President Karen Lewis said in November. "Class sizes are ballooning, and the district is crying broke when it comes to our demands for more teaching resources, while at the same time cheering themselves on while opening multimillion dollar charter operations."
For now, union officials said, the strike is about "unfair labor practices," which they claim gives them the right to strike unilaterally, as well as inadequate state education funding, tied to Gov. Bruce Rauner's budget logjam with the General Assembly, and ineffectual crisis management at CPS, which they blamed on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his appointed Board of Education.
Emanuel expressed support for the aims, if not the tactics, of the "day of action" this week, saying, "I share those concerns" for better state funding. "But do not take it out on the students," he added.
Teachers are being joined by labor groups in the city and across the state on the day of action in protesting Rauner, including college educators and health care workers hit hard by funding cut off midway through last year by the budget stalemate.
CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool has called the teachers' action "illegal" and a "wildcat strike," but as of Thursday evening the district had not attempted to quash it through a legal injunction. In any case, Claypool said Lewis had said teachers wouldn't abide by an injunction.
CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said Thursday that teachers who want to work would be welcome at any of the 107 schools open as part of almost 300 "contingency sites" for students with nowhere else to go, and they would be paid. Jackson ruled out any form of "mass discipline against rank-and-file teachers."
The union, however, has warned that by its bylaws teachers must observe the strike approved by its House of Delegates, or risk getting the boot.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: