Friday, April 01, 2016

Chicago Teachers Rally in Loop to Cap Day of Protests
Chicago Teachers Union stages one-day walkout

Juan Perez Jr. , Marwa Eltagouri , William Lee and Jeanne Kuang
Chicago Tribune

Chicago Teachers Union members and their supporters capped a day of protests by converging in the Loop on Friday afternoon for a rush-hour rally and march.

Teachers gathered at the Thompson Center for a demonstration against budget and program cuts, aiming their frustration at city and state leaders. With the classic Public Enemy song "Fight the Power" blaring, thousands of demonstrators clad in red packed the plaza in front of the state government center.

A cold rain did not dampen the carnival-like atmosphere as teachers, students and their allies cheered on speakers who criticized Gov. Bruce Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Police on the scene estimated the crowd to be around 5,000.

"We need funding across the state," said Denise Racky, a citywide school nurse.

The "Day of Action," spearheaded by the Chicago Teachers Union, forced the cancellation of classes for more than 300,000 students. Early Friday morning teachers hoisted signs and chanted outside neighborhood schools. Then they shifted to a series of midday rallies at the city's college campuses, where demonstrators lambasted the state's politicians over what they called inadequate funding and support.

Mayor on teacher walkout: 'I don't think the kids should pay a price for a political message'
The one-day walkout was designed to draw attention to ongoing the contract battle between the teachers union and CPS administrators, who are wrangling over pay, pension and staffing levels in the cash-strapped school district.

The action meant parents needed to seek alternatives for children on what would ordinarily be a school day. The city opened more than 100 "contingency site" child care locations for displaced students. Emanuel made an appearance at one such site, saying, "I don't think the kids should pay the price for a political message."

Rauner, the prime target of many protesters, called the walkout "shameful."

At Roberto Clemente High School in the Humboldt Park neigghborhood about 40 teachers, chanted, "Who do we love? Teachers! Who do we love? Clemente kids!"

The teachers on the picket line make up about 95 percent of Clemente staff, said Tom Keddy, the school's union representative and a special education and history teacher. He grinned as cars whizzed by the teachers, honking their horns in support. One passenger poked his own cardboard sign out from the car window; it read, "Parents stand with teachers."

Dozens of demonstrators led by college students and the city's young activists stood united with CTU president Karen Lewis, Rev. Jesse Jackson, teachers and supporters of community organizations to push for state funding at Chicago State University on the Far South Side. The public university has declared a state of financial emergency and faces layoffs of its employees.

"This is a day that Chicago State's budget is in jeopardy, but the Cook County jail budget is secure," Jackson said.

"They plan to lock up and not to lift up, because somebody knows that strong minds break strong chains. We will not let them break our sprits," Jackson said. "This school will not be closed. The governor may go, but Chicago State will stay."

At Northeastern Illinois University late Friday morning, a New Orleans-style funeral march of sorts unfolded with mourners carrying gray tombstone signs, a skeleton in a coffin as well jazz musicians marking the death of higher education.

Northeastern student Natalia Rokita, 25, is doubly affected by Friday's strike, as her son is a kindergartner at Farnsworth Elementary, a CPS school in Jefferson Park. "It's a shock to me that people don't want to fund public education, because people rely on it, especially in Illinois and Chicago," said Rokita, who picketed on campus for funding for both her son's education and her own.

Earlier in the day,

"All this support, it already gives us a sense that people understand what's happening," Keddy said. "Of course we'd prefer to be inside teaching the students. We don't take these things lightly. But they understand it's for us and it's for them."

Speakers at the event used the opportunity to target Rauner, Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools administrators.

Illinois attorney general: State has limited fiscal authority over Chicago schools
Illinois attorney general: State has limited fiscal authority over Chicago schools
"The mayor, why is he not doing everything he can to help with the funding (schools) need?" said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, during an interview with the Tribune. "And the governor — the reckless disregard of this governor is reprehensible," Weingarten said.

Rauner issued a statement Friday in response to the strike, saying: "It's shameful that Chicago's children are the victims in this raw display of political power. Walking out on kids in the classroom, leaving parents in the lurch and thumbing their nose at taxpayers — it's the height of arrogance from those we've entrusted with our children's futures."

Rauner and Emanuel have been locked in a broader battle over state financial help for Chicago, with Rauner calling on the mayor to help him pass his pro-business, union-weakening agenda at the statehouse.

before moving on to college campuses feeling the same budget pinch, offering chants, playing instruments and pumping signs — one offering the ultimate Chicago slam: claiming Gov. Bruce Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel use ketchup on their hot dogs.

On Friday, mayoral spokeswoman Kelley Quinn emailed a response to Weingarten's criticism: "Mayor Emanuel and (school district CEO) Forrest Claypool have pushed harder for more funding than anyone in the state, and have consistently asked CTU to join the city in Springfield," Quinn said. "While we appreciate any support we can get to fix a broken state funding system that penalizes poor and minority children in Chicago and around the state, we hope that Randi's support lasts beyond a 24-hour news cycle."

The governor also has said that CPS has been mismanaged financially for years and that the district already benefits from "special deals" that aren't enjoyed by other school districts across the state. He's called for a state takeover of the troubled district and repeatedly suggested bankruptcy as an option, further stoking his fight with Emanuel.

The crowd of Clemente teachers Friday not only chanted but also played maracas, tambourine sticks and cowbells to draw attention to their message.

"This is much bigger than us, than the teachers," Keddy said. "It's for the community. We want good schools. We want good, public schools."

He said teachers at first were worried about how families would react to the strike and whether the teachers' efforts will be effective. But he said community support has been overwhelming, and he is confident the strike will yield some level of action by city or state government leaders.

"If it's as big of a demonstration as we expect it will be, I don't think (local leaders) can ignore it," he said.

But some spots didn't have that to big of a union presence yet early Friday morning.

Behzad Raghian, of Evanston, showed up at the Stephen Gale Community Academy in Rogers Park, about 10 minutes after picketing was supposed to start at 6:30 a.m. and was on his own until a trickle of teachers and others began arriving. Raghian, a lawyer, said he does not have children in CPS but came to support the teachers. "The teachers are the only people standing up for the students," he said.

A week ago, the school district canceled classes for a furlough day.

A lot of the discussion about the one-day walkout has focused on whether it's legal. While the teachers union has said it is, CPS has said it's not. That's prompted questions about whether some teachers may cross the picket line.

During a Friday morning visit at one South Side School, Lewis didn't talk much about how many union members might have crossed picket lines due to some controversy within CTU's ranks about the merits of Friday's strike. The union president, though, acknowledged some of her members may have just elected to stay home.

"Here's the deal: I don't think anyone's crossed the line," she said. "They might not have come to work, you know, and I don't blame them — it's kind of like a, depressing overcast day and, you know, maybe they didn't feel like walking picket lines. But that's OK."

On Thursday, CPS officials said they wouldn't seek to discipline employees who take part in the one-day strike, but district officials said they will launch a legal challenge to what they've maintained is an unlawful walkout by the CTU.

Chicago Tribune's Patrick M. O'Connell, Leonor Vivanco, John Byrne, Bill Ruthhart and Kim Geiger contributed.

Twitter @PerezJr

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