Chicago entered the third day of its teacher strike on Wednesday with both sides seemingly holding fast as they hunkered down in their positions.
“This could be a long strike,” Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey told reporters as the parties prepared to begin talks to potentially end the walkout at the third-largest school district in the nation.
“There’s still a ton of work to do at the table,” Sharkey said. “There are many issues that I think, in terms of the critical areas, the board is hardening up their position on.”
PHOTOS: Chicago teachers strike
Union leaders said they would meet Wednesday morning to review a new, comprehensive proposal from school board negotiators that addresses all the issues still on the table. The board on Tuesday demanded either a written response to its positions or a comprehensive counter proposal from the union.
About 350,000 students have been out of classes since Monday because of the strike by 26,000 unionized teachers.
Some school buildings have been open for various activities, including supplying free meals. Community groups have also stepped in, offering places where parents can take children. School officials announced that, beginning Thursday, the 147 drop-off centers where students can get free breakfast and a morning of supervision will be open six hours a day rather than four.
The job action has inconvenienced many, but the first poll of Chicago voters since the strike began showed 47% supporting the teachers union, 39% opposed to the strike and the rest uncommitted, according to the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper. The poll of 500 registered voters was conducted by telephone and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
Board President David Vitale, the lead schools negotiator, has insisted that the strike was unnecessary, a position often repeated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has sparred with the union before. Among the key outstanding issues is a new teacher evaluation procedure and a system for rehiring laid-off teachers.
“There's been — let's put it this way — centimeters [of progress] and we're still kilometers apart,” union President Karen Lewis told reporters after Tuesday's bargaining session. Earlier, she said it was “lunacy” to think the contract could be quickly resolved at this point. She said the union has signed off on just six of the 49 articles in the contract.
Emanuel has been a specific target of the teachers. “The only way to beat a bully,” Lewis said at one recent teachers rally near Emanuel’s office, “is to stand up to a bully!”
Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was once the chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools, issued a statement calling for a settlement. But like President Obama, he has carefully chosen to remain neutral in the fight between the teacher’s union and Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff.
“I’m confident that both sides have the best interests of the students at heart,” Duncan said, “and that they can collaborate at the bargaining table — as teachers and school districts have done all over the country — to reach a solution that puts kids first.”
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