Union vows to topple mayor as school gates shut

31st May 2013 at 01:00
Teachers retaliate against largest mass closure in US history

A teachers' union in Chicago, US, has launched a bid to unseat the city's mayor in the wake of a controversial decision to close more than 50 of the city's schools.

Last week, the Chicago Board of Education voted in favour of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plans to shut down 54 schools - the largest mass closure in the history of the US.

In response, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has launched a drive to register 100,000 new voters ahead of the 2015 municipal elections, in an attempt to oust Mr Emanuel (pictured, below).

The union, which has clashed repeatedly with the mayor over a number of school issues and which staged a seven-day strike over pay last autumn, said that it intended to raise funds to support candidates for mayoral, city council and statewide office.

"We will go door-to-door in neighbourhoods where people's schools have been shut down and their jobs have been lost," CTU president Karen Lewis said. "We know that we may not win every seat we intend to target but with research, polling, money and people power we can win some of them."

The decision to close the schools was fiercely opposed by the mainly African American and Hispanic communities that they serve, with students, parents and teachers organising rallies in the run-up to the board's vote.

Concerns have been raised that students will be exposed to gang violence as they travel longer distances to their new schools, and the CTU even accused the city government of racial discrimination in federal lawsuits that it filed last week.

Ms Lewis called the board's decision a "day of mourning for the children of Chicago" and branded it a "scorched earth policy" rather than an education plan.

But Mr Emanuel, who served as chief of staff during President Barack Obama's first term in the White House, defended the move, citing falling student numbers and claiming that it would help to boost standards across the city. It has been estimated that the closures will save Chicago, the third largest school district in America, US$867 million (#163;575 million) over the next 10 years.

Mr Emanuel said he would "absorb the political consequence" of his decision so that "our children have a better future".

"If I was to shrink from something the city has discussed for over a decade about what it needed to do ... because it was politically too tough, but then watch another generation of children drop out or fail in their reading and mathematics, I don't want to hold this job," he added.

City officials have promised that students will be moved to higher performing schools with better amenities, such as libraries.

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