CHICAGO (AP & 13WHAM) – The strike by Chicago teachers is making headlines across the country, as the nation’s third-largest school district is now ground zero in the fight over education reform.
Thousands of teachers walked off the job in Chicago's first schools strike in 25 years. The walkout by 26,000 teachers and support staff affects almost 400,000 students.
The district is headed by former Rochester superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard, whose boss is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney says Chicago teachers are turning their backs on thousands of students and President Barack Obama is siding with the striking teachers.
Romney, in a statement released Monday hours before he was set to land in Chicago for fundraisers, says he is disappointed by the Chicago teachers' decision to walk out of negotiations. Romney says he sides with parents and students over unionized teachers.
Romney has been critical of public employee unions, including teachers. Romney says union interests run counter to students' education.
Teachers are concerned about pay, working conditions, evaluations and the ability of principals to fire them.
Rochester had a teachers strike in 1980. It lasted for 11 days. Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski was elected union president after the strike on the promise he would avoid strikes in the future and work collaboratively with administrations.
“Strikes are always divisive. Strikes are always hurtful to schools and students,” said Urbanski. “But sometimes strikes are an investment in better future for schools and for students.”
Brizard left Rochester after 90 percent of teachers voted “no confidence” in his leadership. Urbanski said he was not surprised to hear of the Chicago strike.
“Frankly if Brizard had remained in Rochester and continued the attitudes and policies that he promoted here and exhibited here there was a real danger of a strike here too,” Urbanski said. “But we were able to avert it with a resounding vote of “no confidence” and fortunately only weeks afterward he decided to move to Chicago.”
In New York State, teacher strikes are illegal. Striking teachers would be docked two days of pay for every day on strike. They also risk getting fired and losing their teaching licenses.
Urbanski said he supports Chicago teachers and is encouraging Rochester teachers to wear red in solidarity on Wednesday and donate to funds to support the teachers on strike.