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Laura Washington: Chicago cannot afford a teachers strike

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Will he, won’t they?

No one can afford the impending teacher’s strike. Not Rahm Emanuel — nor the Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Public Schools honchos, nor — most important — our kids.

The CTU and CPS administration negotiated all weekend. This one will go to the brink. With no agreement, 28,000 teachers and support staff will hit the picket lines at 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel says our city is broke. The CTU insists we’re not.

Will Emanuel “find” a last-minute pot of gold? TIF money, anyone?

Will the CTU step back a few millimeters back from the edge?


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Strike. In a city wracked by senseless gun violence, it means the children will be sitting ducks.

Strike. Parents citywide will be scrambling to find child care and safe passage. CPS will blow through tens of millions of dollars for alternative spaces, staffing and security.

Strike. Teachers will be on the street, losing money, snarling downtown traffic, inflaming tempers.

Chicago cannot afford a strike.

Squeezing blood from a turnip, a most unpleasant vegetable, is not a pretty thing. The city is hiring police personnel it cannot afford. Chicago is rolling out economic development incentives it cannot bankroll.

On Sept. 26, Moody’s Investors Service plunged the CPS  deeper into the junk pile, lowering its rating of the system’s financial status to a B3.

The big business types say CPS, and Chicago, are hurling toward bankruptcy. That may make Gov. Bruce Rauner smile, but a strike could be the knockout punch.

Our families are bailing. Among the nation’s 20 largest cities, ours is the only one that lost population in 2015, according to the U.S. Census.

Between 2000 and 2010, Chicago lost 181,000 African-American residents. Black families are most reliant on the schools. They are giving up.

This fall, CPS enrollment dropped by 14,000 over last year. That means that a $45 million loss in state funding for a school district that claims it is beyond broke.

History suggests a grim outcome. Emanuel lost Round 1 to CTU President Karen Lewis in the last teachers’ strike. The union deployed its muscle to run an opponent to the mayor, forcing him into a runoff. The fallout from subsequent police scandals and street violence have driven Emanuel’s political clout into the ground. A strike would put Chicago under.

Yet, more recent history reveals a way. To paraphrase that most famous Chicagoan, I am audaciously looking for hope.

Lately, Emanuel and Lewis have been texting, even talking.

Emanuel has an “impossible” job, Lewis acknowledged late last month at an appearance at The Hideout bar on the city’s North Side. “If I were mayor I don’t think we would be in a much better place,” the Chicago Reader quoted her as saying.

She is getting along better with the mayor, she acknowledged. “The rudeness is gone.”

Indeed. No profane moments. At media opportunities in recent weeks, the mayor has been kinder, gentler, calmer.

I can hope, that they put this battle aside and put Chicago first.

There has never been a better moment for the “impossible.”

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