Yesterday the Chicago Public Schools announced 61 school building closures, including 52 elementary schools, due to a $1 billion budget deficit. This is the largest closing in the district’s history, and the reaction from the teachers union has been swift.

A few weeks ago, noted radical organizer Lisa Fithian was in town training the teachers (perhaps the ones who missed the large teacher training at the Midwest Marxist conference) in nonviolent protest action. Jesse Sharkey, Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union and panelist at the Midwest Marxist conference, said during Fithian’s training:

(School closings are) not something we’re prepared to accept without a fight…Tonight is about us training our people in the methods of non-violent civil disobedience because we’re going to take this fight as far as we have to, to defend our community schools.”

Kyle Olson of Education Action Group, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting education reform, told me that “having Lisa Fithian involved shows how serious the union is at winning. When Fithian’s involved, nothing good will come of it. She’s only about confrontation and clashes with the police. The fact they turn to her shows how radical they are.”

Olson said not only is the district operating as though it has about 100,000 more students than it does, but also “The CTU is using the momentum it gained through the successful strike to stop school closures. It believes it’s developed the support necessary to defeat them. Emanuel should both be seeking salary and benefit concessions and closing schools. He didn’t get concessions – in fact the new contract is costing more – and we’ll see if he actually closes schools.”

An article on EAG reports that many of the district’s buildings are half-empty, and officials say that $560 million will be saved over 10 years, with an additional $43 million/year in operational costs saved, with the closings. From EAG:

The CTU’s hypocrisy is the most sickening part of this entire situation.

Last fall the union went on strike for 10 days, pressuring the school district to cough up an absurdly large 17.6 percent raise for teachers which will cost about $74 million per year. We’re guessing that $74 million would be enough to keep a few schools open.

The union also pressured the district into recalling hundreds of laid off teachers to help cover the extra workload of longer school days that will start next year.

So the union is really good at spending school district money, but not so great at helping city and district officials figure out how to deal with the deficit.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, leader of the strike earlier this school year (and never one to miss an opportunity to use schoolchildren to advance the union), said the following:

These actions unnecessarily expose our students to gang violence, turf wars and peer-to-peer conflict. Some of our students have been seriously injured as a result of school closings. One died. Putting thousands of small children in harm’s way is not laudatory.

A large-scale protect action is planned for next Wednesday. While today, a small group of parents kicked off the protests by pulling the fire alarm at a targeted school in protest.