Crusader Staff Report
Chicago Public Schools students went back to classrooms Tuesday, September 3 to start the new school year as a possible teacher’s strike looms over the nation’s third largest school system.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot led a ribbon cutting ceremony to open the new state-of-the art $85 million STEM Englewood High School, where some 400 freshmen are hitting the books for the first time in the facility. They are among some 360,000 students who went back to school after a long summer.
The opening day capped a weekend full of back-to-school activities on the South and West Sides. Many events gave away free backpacks and school supplies. Some offered free haircuts and salon services to give students a fresh start on the new school year.
They will be taught by many teachers who are working without a contract. Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union remain at odds over a new teachers’ contract.
Lightfoot’s contract included $351 million in pay increases, but the CTU is demanding more nurses, social workers, increased staffing and smaller class sizes.
CPS plans to spend $3.5 million to hire 35 social workers and have at least 200 social workers in the next five years. The district also plans to spend $3.6 million to hire case managers at specific schools in troubled neighborhoods to address problems facing minority students.
CTU members say that’s not enough. Lightfoot said she’s working hard on a new contract, but time is running out. The CTU plans to holding meetings this week to determine whether to vote for a strike.
“It’s good that candidate Lightfoot ran on a program of improving our schools, delivering services of counselors, social workers, those things are important, but now Mayor Lightfoot has to make good on her promises. We need it in writing,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said.
The last teacher’s strike in 2012 crippled CPS at the beginning of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s term in office. Lightfoot is trying to avoid the strike as the city’s first Black female mayor.
Two weeks ago, the Chicago Board of Education approved a $7.7 billion budget that includes an allocation of $263 million in funding for critical maintenance projects.
CPS officials say the proposed budget prioritizes equitable access to high-quality facilities and programs by focusing on high-needs communities. CPS officials said 93 percent of the guaranteed $619 million capital plan will support schools that serve majority low-income student populations.
“By putting equity first, we are ensuring every young person knows they matter, knows we care, and knows they can reach their full given potential, inspiring students of all ages to continue to set new academic records and create a city that is truly a beacon of hope and opportunity for all,” said CPS CEO Janice Jackson.