CHICAGO (Reuters) - School classes were called off for a fourth day in Chicago after the city and striking teachers in the third-largest U.S. school system failed to settle a contract dispute over issues such as class size and staffing.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) said it had canceled classes and after-school activities on Tuesday for its 300,000 students, who have been out of school since Thursday when the system’s 25,000 teachers went on strike.
The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) called the work stoppage after contract negotiations failed to produce a deal on pay, overcrowding in schools and a lack of support staff such as nurses and social workers.
The strike is the latest in a wave of work stoppages in U.S. school districts in which demands for school resources have superseded calls for higher salaries and benefits.
In Chicago and elsewhere, teachers have emphasized the need to help underfunded schools, framing their demands as a call for social justice.
Union President Jesse Sharkey said during an evening news conference that Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s current proposal only addresses 20 percent of overcrowded classes and her support staff proposals do not adequately meet the needs of the district.
“I find my hopes dashed,” he said. “Unless there is a change at the top of this city in regard to their willingness to make meaningful changes, we are not likely seeing a quick settlement of the current strike.”
At a news conference earlier in the day, Lightfoot said the city had made written concessions on pay and staffing and told the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) to show “urgency” to reach a deal.
“Enough is enough, there’s no further excuse to keep our kids out of school,” Lightfoot said, urging teachers to return to work while their union continued to negotiate.
Lightfoot also sent a letter to the union, asking teachers to go back to work while they negotiate a new contract.
“Our children and families do not have the luxury of additional days out of school to wait for the process to play out,” she wrote, according to the letter posted on Twitter by the teachers union.
The union showed no sign of giving up the stoppage, saying teachers needed a written contract proposal and it should not have taken this long to get students’ needs met.
“We can’t trust them to do right by students if we go back without a contract,” the CTU tweeted after Lightfoot’s comments.
Since the strike began, teachers have picketed at many of the district’s 500 schools and have held downtown rallies and marches. Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have voiced their support for Chicago teachers, including Elizabeth Warren who is expected to rally with teachers at a West Side elementary school on Tuesday morning.
Lightfoot, who was elected in April, said the district offered a raise for teachers of 16% over five years, and by the end of that period there would be one nurse and one social worker in every school.
Lightfoot said the district could not afford the union’s full demands, which would cost an extra $2.4 billion annually, swelling its budget by 40 percent.
Although the latest work stoppage has forced officials to cancel classes and sports events, school buildings are staying open for children in need of a place to go.
The strike comes seven years after Chicago teachers walked out for seven days over teacher evaluations and hiring practices.
Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; additional reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; editing by Richard Pullin and Stephen Coates