Negotiations deadlocked as Chicago looks toward its fifth day without school

After pulling back most of its negotiators for a day in protest, the Chicago Teachers Union said it spent Tuesday “rebuilding” and will return to the bargaining table in full force to pursue a contract. 

The union’s diminished bargaining team produced no major agreements on the key issues of class size, staffing or prep time, officials said after bargaining wrapped up about 6 p.m. Tuesday.

For now, the strike of 25,000 educators will continue at least through Wednesday, with no regular classes in session. Hints of member preparations indicate the walkout will last through the week’s end.

Teachers plan to join a large rally downtown Wednesday, when Mayor Lori Lightfoot is scheduled to give her first city budget address.

Lightfoot surprised and angered the union when she proposed this week that it return to classrooms before settling on a contract and also insisted the city had no more money — other than what it had already conceded — to offer.

“We had momentum Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the oxygen left the room yesterday [with a letter sent by the mayor asking the union to end the strike yet continue negotiations],” union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. We rebuilt some of that energy today. We hope to have some more going in to tomorrow. We want a settlement, but they have to put in real resources for it.”

Earlier Tuesday, the mayor told reporters that the union’s warning that the strike would not end quickly was “overstating things dramatically.” She also warned that what the city has already agreed to in the contract could come at a high cost — $500 million more across five years than the previous teachers contract costs. 

“We have to live within our means,” said Lightfoot, mentioning the letter that she and schools chief Janice Jackson sent Monday.

Tuesday featured more picket lines — drawing attention and support beyond Chicago as videos of dancing teacher-protesters spread online — and boisterous rallies. The largest featured Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leading Democratic nominee for president.

In negotiations, coaches spoke to the City Hall bargaining team about the district’s lack of athletic resources, an issue that surfaced earlier in the week. 

Meanwhile, Lightfoot, her wife Amy Eshleman, and CPS’ Jackson made a morning stop at Marwen, a nonprofit arts center in the Gold Coast that is caring for and feeding students. Lightfoot said the strike was inflicting hardship on families.

Chicagoans will closely watch Lightfoot’s first budget address on Wednesday for how she proposes to fill a projected $838 million budget hole — whether she’ll tap new revenue, downsize programs, propose new taxes, or hint at spending more on schools. 

While the budgets for Chicago Public Schools and the city are separate, the union has argued that the city should divert some tax surplus funds to schools from an account — known as tax increment financing, or TIF — it uses to spur development in blighted areas. 

“There is money for downtown development, but not money for our schools,” union Chief of Staff Jennifer Johnson said Tuesday evening. “TIF surplus is one of the ways the mayor can find money for our schools.” 

But City Hall insists that the union’s demands exceed fiscal sustainability. Lightfoot has said there is “no more money” to meet additional union demands.

“We want to make sure there is a full appreciation of CPS’ financial position,” Jackson told reporters. “This idea that we are flush with cash and just sitting on it and not spending it is just not true.”

The city and union are negotiating a class size committee that would help alleviate overcrowding and on hiring additional social workers and nurses for schools.  Negotiators have not forged a solution to the union’s demand for more teacher prep time.