When the final dismissal bell rang on Friday, it marked the official start of the holiday break for Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Kids poured out their schools in a cacophony of relief, excitement and laughter as images of staying up late, sleeping in and Christmas toys danced in their heads.
I remember those days.
I also remember when my grade school teachers were grabbing their coats right along with me, and we all smiled and sang the praises of Christmas Break as we bounced down the school’s front steps.
Today, my CPS teacher-friends are also happy to be on a much-needed vacation, but their usual joy has been hijacked by angst and fear. These teachers, who normally go to happy hour as giddy as children on a playground, now go hoping to find a hug at the bottom of their drink.
They are stressed out. They are wondering if they’ll get a pink slip when they return to school in January or if they’ll have to march on the picket line during a subzero Chicago winter.
You see, CPS is threatening to layoff 5,000 teachers in February to close the $480 million budget hole that exists in this year’s budget.
As a result, nearly 97 percent of CPS teachers voted to authorize a strike. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has been advising them since the summer to save 25 percent of their paychecks to endure a potentially long and bitter walkout.
As an alternative to massive layoffs, CPS just proposed a new offer to incur more debt by taking out loans to close the budget gap, that is, if teachers will accept the responsibility of paying 7 percent more of their salary for their pensions, which would essentially reduce their take-home pay by just as much.
An early response to that offer by CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey was not promising: “I think, in some ways, it’s going down the wrong path.”
Meanwhile, parents are left to wonder what the second half of their children’s school year will look like. If there is a teacher’s strike, how will they manage childcare? If there are massive layoffs, how will their children’s class options and class sizes change? If CPS borrows millions more, how will the loans affect the sustainability of the district, which has already borrowed $2.3 billion this year alone?
Teachers Who Pray
The uncertainty is unnerving.
I try to put my faith in God and not man, but lately I’ve had to make a much more concerted effort to trust the Almighty and not be discouraged by the onslaught of bad news coming from central office.
My organization Teachers Who Pray has been working to counterbalance the fear and strife through monthly public prayer meetings through our internal network, radio announcements and Meetup.com.
We had a well-attended 4th Annual Teachers Who Pray Conference in October under the theme, “Taking Education Advocacy to the Highest Level,” and we met in the conference room of the Overflow Coffee Bar on the third Mondays in November and December.
These events brought together an array of people of faith who are concerned about the future of CPS: district and charter teachers, administrators, retired teachers, ministers, parents and grandparents, neighbors and even a reporter. Everyone was feeling the trepidation of the school situation. We gathered to pray that God would give our school and government leaders the wisdom to manage this fiscal crisis in a way that brings forth justice and stability for teachers, but especially for the people who have the most to lose—the children.
My Christmas wish for my fellow Chicago teachers, unionized or not, is to spend little time worrying about the problems that await us in the new year, and enjoy the last two school-free weeks of 2015 with our dearest family and friends.
I also encourage us to pray and truly believe that God will move. Prayer is powerful; it can cause even giants like CPS and CTU to agree.