City leaders and the Chicago Teachers Union will be back at the bargaining table Thursday, exactly one week away from a potential strike.
The two sides have met 49 times throughout the course of contract negotiations thus far, but remain at odds as a strike looms closer and closer. The union says one of the biggest sticking points is smaller class sizes, saying that nearly 25% of Chicago Public Schools classrooms are overcrowded.
A group of teachers gathered after school Wednesday calling attention to the issue, highlighting class sizes at Simeon Career Academy, where they say teachers have between 37 and 43 students each.
Both Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CTU leaders laid out their cases Wednesday on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight," each side continuing to point fingers at one another to make a deal.
At a news conference Monday morning, Lightfoot said CTU negotiators did not provide a counter-offer to the district's Sept. 27 proposal for a full week.
"Since our team submitted that offer, totaling about 50 pages of material, we’ve received nothing in return from CTU until this past Friday," Lightfoot said. "And on last Friday, we got five sheets of paper. What we got back on Friday doesn’t address any of the substantive issues like compensation, insurance, staffing - any of those issues."
Last week, the union announced that its members would strike on Oct. 17 if a deal cannot be reached. Lightfoot said Monday that the date for a deal to be made would have to be even sooner to avoid a strike, placing the deadline at Oct. 15, so the union negotiators could document the terms and take it to CTU's House of Delegates.
"Instead of meeting us at the bargaining table to solve problems, our counterparts have focused their energy on preparing for a strike rather than avoiding one," Lightfoot said. "We can't bargain alone. We need our CTU counterparts to join us in resolving the open issues."
In a statement, the CTU said its bargaining team members "remain firm in their position when it comes to class sizes, wraparound services, special and bilingual education support, and the need for increased nurse, librarian, counselor and social worker staffing."
CTU members voted to authorize a strike late last month, setting the stage for more than 25,000 teachers and staff to walk off the job in the nation's third-largest school district.
CPS officials said their latest contract offer included a 16% raise, which would put the average teacher salary at nearly $100,000 within the next five years.
But CTU officials said the potential strike is more than just about money—they want improvements in areas related to not just class size, but staffing shortages, as well as provisions related to safety and security of students in areas surrounding schools.
Union leaders have said they want promises made by then-candidate Lightfoot in writing, including more social workers, school nurses and librarians, as well as maximum class sizes.
CTU said Monday that the consensus of the 50-member bargaining team was that "the Board has done more stalling and stonewalling during negotiations than actual bargaining," saying that the proposals were submitted to the city in January and that CTU did not respond until July.
Members of CTU's bargaining team were scheduled to be at Passages Charter School Thursday morning to announce their own strike date.
Both CTU's and the city's bargaining teams were expected to continue negotiating Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
"I'm optimistic that we will settle this. I'm going to do everything within my power; I know Mayor Lightfoot feels the same way," CPS CEO Janice Jackson said Thursday morning.
"But we have started to plan; we think that's prudent," Jackson continued, directing parents to CPS' website. "Every single school building will be open, as well as other agencies throughout the city. So we want to ensure that students have a safe place to go where they can get a warm meal, but again, we're going to do everything in the next seven days to make sure we avert a strike."
"We have a robust plan in place, but to be honest, I hope we don't have to use it," Jackson added.