Chicago Teachers Near Deal to End Strike on 4th Day

It appears that the two sides may be close to an agreement that would end the teachers strike in Chicago and send children back to school as early as tomorrow but more likely on Monday, according to both the head of the teachers union and a spokesperson for the Chicago Public Schools.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis estimated today that on a scale of 1 to 10, she was at 9 in whether a deal would be reached today, the fourth day of the strike that has shut down classes for the 350,000 students in the Chicago public schools. Lewis said she didn’t think classes would be able to resume as soon as tomorrow because the union’s delegates would have to approve the deal.

But Barbara Byrd-Bennett, chief education officer with Chicago Public Schools, was even more optimistic, predicting the kids could be back in school on Friday.

“I can really, really say to you, if we stick to the issues, unless something really nutsy happens, kids can be back in school (tomorrow),” Byrd-Bennett said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

But Lewis said a Friday return was “highly unlikely,” even if the two sides come to an agreement today, because the union’s House of Delegates wouldn’t be able to meet until Friday.

But she added, “I think the mayor wants to get this done,” and she is “praying” the district’s 350,000 children will be back in school on Monday.

Under the proposal that both sides appear to like, teacher raises would be structured differently, as requested by the union; evaluations of tenured teachers during the first year could not result in dismissal; later evaluations could be appealed; and health insurance rates would hold steady if the union agreed to take part in a wellness program.

The new proposal also removes the district’s ability to rescind raises because of an economic crisis. The board stripped teachers of a 4 percent raise last year, sparking union distrust of the mayor.

Union delegates have told reporters they’ve been notified to attend a delegates meeting Friday at 2 p.m., where the more than 700 delegates would vote to end the strike, pending approval of the contract by the union’s 26,000 members.

“We’re most optimistic that the union leadership will make sure our demands are met,” Michelle Gunderson, a fourth-grade teacher at Nettlehorst Elementary in Lakeview, told the Tribune. “We can’t just do this again. This has to be the finish line.”

As for the contentious issues of charters schools and vouchers and job security,
Fran Feeley, 44, a librarian at Inter-American Magnet School, said he had “mixed-feelings” about the news of a deal.

“I don’t accept the idea that charter schools and vouchers and testing kids eight weeks a year is going to solve the problems facing the public schools,” he said.

David Temkin, a CPS social worker, said he has been affected by the strike as a teacher and a parent. He has two daughters in Chicago Public Schools, one in first grade, the other in second grade.

“But in what battle don’t we have casualties?” Temkin said.

Although students suffer during a strike, Temkin said the strike makes it possible for teachers to be heard. “We’ve been struggling to have a voice at the table,” he said. “The board doesn’t listen. Maybe they’re start to listen now.”

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