Lightfoot’s budget speech embraces hope for ‘kind of city we want to be’

Getting there is the challenge — as the important yet unresolved issues behind the CPS teachers strike illustrate.

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivers her first budget address at City Hall, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivers her first budget address at City Hall, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times

There may be hope after all.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivered a budget address that was full of inspiration and a plan that included the poor but not a property tax increase.

That’s incredibly good news.

After all, I live in a neighborhood where a young black male, homeless and likely mentally ill, lives in a children’s play lot.

I used to divert my eyes, but my faith convicted me of that.

Now when I pass him, I reach into my pocket and hand him a folded bill because, alone, that is all I can do.

I know it will take many more of us to be willing to have less so those with nothing can have more to fix this situation.

From the tone of the mayor’s speech, she must feel the same way.

“Now is the time — now is the time — for all of us to join together around our common mission and our common purpose,” she urged near the end of her speech.

But few people want to give up what they have to take on the burdens of the have-nots, which makes the public support for the CTU strike curious.

Frankly, it is hard to consider a number as astronomical as the $838 million budget gap Lightfoot is trying to fill without thinking the Chicago Teachers Union is kicking the city when it is down.

But a schoolgirl read letters that asked the mayor to “sign the contract” during the public remarks session, and it was heart-piercing.

The biggest issues — class size, staffing of nurses, librarians, social workers and counselors — are apparently still red meat on the table.

Since there is always a lot of misleading rhetoric on both sides during a strike, I dare not take sides.

Still it shouldn’t have come to this.

Chicago public schoolteachers and their students deserve better.

Unfortunately, the working environment for too many of these teachers is simply not what it should be.

For instance, I was shocked when I ran into what was once an excited and determined first-time teacher and found in her place a disenchanted CPS employee after only a few months on the job.

And what about those who stay?

Many teachers and staff that work at some of the most challenged schools care so much about their students that they take money out of their own pockets to make sure they have the resources the school can’t provide.

For these employees, the workday begins before daylight and doesn’t end until the last paper is graded and the lesson plan is completed.

Unfortunately, I know young teachers that are so overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that they are fleeing in search of another profession.

With that kind of reality, it is no wonder teachers are willing to march on a picket line rather than return to the classroom without a signed contract.

But while the strike may have come at a bad time for the Lightfoot administration, it was bound to happen.

Lightfoot is managing the crisis as best she can.

“My goal is that parents and students at every Chicago public school — regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or income level — can receive the opportunities that families in wealthy suburbs can take for granted,” she wrote in a recent Chicago Sun-Times op-ed.

Like the predicament of the homeless young man living in the park, it is going to cost a great deal more to fix schools than many of us are willing to spend.

But as the mayor said so eloquently in her budget address, “This budget is more than just a math problem. It’s a values statement for what we prioritize and the kind of city we want to be.”

If she truly envisions a city “where kids who look like me and come from families like mine won’t have to beat the odds to get a great education, a good-paying job, raise a family and pursue their dreams,” solving the education funding inequity has to be the priority.

Because when we send teachers into schools like soldiers into a combat zone, we owe those teachers the utmost support and the resources they so desperately need.

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