School districts across Illinois prepare for possible strikes

A number of school districts across Illinois are preparing for teachers to walk out of classrooms as soon as next week as contract negotiations with unions break down. The Center Square

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A number of school districts across Illinois are preparing for teachers to walk out of classrooms as soon as next week as contract negotiations with unions break down. 

Although 2019 could potentially see more teacher strikes in Illinois than the state has seen in a decade, the most high-profile strike looming this month is between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools. The district has offered teachers a contract that would result in the teacher pay increasing 16 percent to an average of nearly six figures by the end of the five-year deal. The union wants the city to commit to hiring additional support staff. State law forbids unions from negotiating about things such as hiring other personnel, but the union has persisted. If teachers walkout on Oct. 17, more than 300,000 students would be left with few options because support staff and Chicago Park District workers, who helped schools in the last strike, are also planning to strike.

“If kids can’t go to school, they also can’t go to these backup places like the parks,” said Kerry Kasper, editor for the Center for Illinois Politics, whose analysis of the situation came with dire predictions for parents.

The Center for Illinois Politics went back to 2010, the height of the Great Recession, and tabulated the number of strikes in Illinois each year. The largest number of public school teacher strikes occurred in 2013, which resulted in 49 total days where teachers were on strike.

As of Thursday, Bremen, Oak Forest, Tinley Park and Hillcrest (all of which are in District 228) along with Chicago, Murphysboro, DeKalb, and Blue Ridge face a walkout by teachers in the coming weeks if they can’t reach deals.

“You really saw this start to bust with the recession and since then there has been a rolling number of strikes over the last decade,” Kasper said.

Chicago has seen one strike in that timeframe Kasper examined, coming close to doing so again in 2015. The city, Kasper said, is second to only Philadelphia in total strike days compared to other major U.S. cities.

One reason for this could be Illinois’ laws that allow for teacher strikes being more lenient than other states, according to a report from the nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute.

“Government unions in Illinois’ neighboring states cannot make exorbitant demands – such as those Illinoisans have seen – while threatening to walk out if those demands are not met,” said author Mailee Smith. “In turn, those prohibitions help protect residents from the taxes that accompany outlandish union demands.”

The Illinois Federation of Teachers declined to comment.

The Center Square

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