400,000 students are on the streets today after 26,000 Chicago public school teachers walked out on failed contract negotiations. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, feeling the need to state the obvious, said that he wasn’t in favor of the strike and that it was both “wrong” and completely “avoidable.” That’s a small consolation for the Chicago Police Department, which has been put on notice that nearly a half million kids will be without day care until union and school district officials can come to some sort of resolve.
Rejecting a $400 million plan, which would have effectively raised most teachers’ salaries 16% over four years, the union showed little concern for education, despite the mayor’s declaration that “the kids of Chicago belong in the classroom.” Proving that they completely understand Obamanomics, union officials rejected the deal, even though the school district was already predicting a $1 billion deficit at the end of this school year—and that was before the proposed $400 million increase. If Obama can create nearly $800 billion with the simple stroke of his pen, shouldn’t his former chief of staff be expected to be able to do the same with a mere $1 billion? It’s a valid question.
Chicago educators watched the government intervene to “save” General Motors, despite years of reckless spending and bloated pension packages. Why should Detroit get all the government gravy, while the Chicago School District is forced to make cuts? Budgets and deficits are so 20th century; things like this are of no consequence in the brave new economy of the 21st century.
Emanuel is personally dealing with a problem created by his own mentor in economic issues. The problem is that Emanuel doesn’t control the printing presses, Obama does. Obama can make reckless decisions with other people’s money, but Emanuel actually has to live within his means. One parent believes that this strike is going to “divide our city” and that it’s “going to get ugly.” Indeed it will. Once parents realize that they are going to lose their tax-supported childcare for more than a few days, things are going to heat up fast. Parents aren’t going to sympathize with teachers so long as their own daily routine and way of life is affected.
Big city politics, especially in a city the size of Chicago, can get out of control in a hurry. It will be more than interesting to watch how Emanuel tries to defuse this ticking time bomb. This could very well end up being a key issue in the 2012 presidential election, if he can’t get the unions and school officials to some sort of agreement—and fast. This is one to keep your eyes on.