CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public Schools has 1,000 teaching vacancies to fill before the 2016-2017 school year begins on Sept. 6. The district held a career fair Wednesday at the South Shore Cultural Center, where some of the applicants expressed mixed feelings.
"I actually taught in the school that I graduated from, so it's just so difficult for me to come to these fairs because I don't want to leave my home school," said Nina Patel.
"I was a substitute teacher, and I fell in love with the profession and I told myself, I can't do anything other than be a teacher, that's why I'm in this profession. And if I have to be forced out of this profession, I don't know what I will do," said Nusirat Olaniran.
Mario Stewart taught special education at Mahalia Jackson Elementary School. He grew up in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood and worked at O'Hare until he was 29, when he decided he would go back to school.
"I'm endorsed in various subjects: science, social science, language arts. So it all depends on the needs of schools," Stewart said.
Stewart wanted to become a teacher and set an example for children who needed one. He chose to be optimistic as he set out on his job hunt, knowing he had a lot to offer.
"You can easily fall into a rut of, 'I don't want to do this. I don't want to go through the motions. I'm qualified.' You can easily tear down an opportunity or a chance just based on your demeanor," Stewart said.
Less than two weeks ago, CPS laid off 1,000 of its employees. Nearly half of them were teachers. All were told they would be eligible to apply for other jobs in the district.
Sharon Latson, who taught at Parkside and Ace Technical Charter School, said it does Chicago's children a disservice to create so much instability in the classroom.
"It's important that we're very honest, very candid with young people and that we're there and committed to being there, in spite of what the system does," Latson said.
The district characterized the layoffs as part of normal, yearly staff movement between schools. District officials said in previous years, roughly 60 percent of teachers who were laid off were eventually rehired to fill in gaps elsewhere.
But CPS is working with less money this year than it was last year. The funding gap is estimated at nearly $140 million. That has left many parents and community members deeply concerned for the future of their children's schools.
"I'm not so optimistic. It's priorities, it's your moral imperative, and those are the kind of things they don't do well on," said Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis.
The CTU is preparing for a strike as contract negotiations remain ongoing. Lewis said if there is any action, it wouldn't be until after school starts.
"A lot of planning goes into this, it's not something we take lightly but we want to be prepared, we want our members prepared just in case," Lewis said.
A CPS spokesperson said in a statement, "CPS teachers do extraordinary work. We remain committed to reaching a fair agreement for our teachers that the district and taxpayers can afford."
Administrators will hear parents' thoughts and concerns at a series of meetings throughout the city Wednesday night.
The meetings are from 6-8 p.m. at these locations in Chicago:
-Bridge Elementary, 3800 North New England Avenue
-National Teacher's Academy, 55 West Cermak Road
-Kennedy High School, 6325 West 56th Street
A planned meeting later in August will tackle the budget for the next school year.
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