Contract questions loom over start of CPS school year

August 10, 2012 (CHICAGO)

About one third of Chicago's public school students are getting ready to start school on Monday, when classes begin for the city's year-round schools.

Negotiations between school officials and the teachers union are ongoing as both parents and students wonder if the school year will start on time. Educators could authorize a strike at anytime.

Meanwhile, parents are hoping for the best, but preparing for the possibility of no classes.

Chicago public school student Mia Williams shopped for classroom supplies Friday afternoon, but as the threat of a teacher strike looms, her mother wonders if her daughter will be going to school at all.

"I really hope that they can work out what they need to for the sake of the children," said Niema Dancy, parent of a CPS student.

The teachers' contract expired June 30th. After more than 40 days of contract talks, negotiations between the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) are moving so slowly that CTU president Karen Lewis says there is no chance for an agreement anytime soon.

"The bottom line is we've gotta come to resolution to make sure that we remove this stress from our families, from our children," said Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

With preparations under way for the first day of class on Monday for kids who attend CPS year-round schools, there is concern.

"Parents are kind of just trying to figure out what's going on; it's more so from the students, a lot of students are on the playground asking are they going to start school," said Shawn Jackson, principal of Spencer Technology Academy.

With the mandated 30-day cooling off period over, teachers can strike, but only after the union's House of Delegates sets a strike date and gives CPS officials a 10-day notification of their intent to walk out of the classroom.

School starts for most Chicago Public Schools students on September 4th. A union spokesperson says the stalemate is not just about money.

"We have the fifth largest class sizes in the state, we have kindergarten teachers that cry to us on a daily basis - 45 students, those issues need to be resolved and addressed," said Jackson Potter of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Curriculum-based private learning centers like Near the Pier development center are hearing from parents already looking for alternatives learning environments for their children.

"They're trying to get a feel for what's going to happen; we'll probably start hearing some desperation the beginning of next week," said Dr. Rebecca Reynolds, director of Near the Pier Development Center.

Near the Pier is not alone. Other private learning centers are also receiving calls. It remains unclear exactly how close both sides are, but what is clear is that there are still plenty of issues to be resolved.

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