News Column

Deal Possible in Chicago Teachers Strike

Sept. 14, 2012

A contract agreement was "so close," a school board adviser said Friday morning, the fifth day of the strike by Chicago teachers.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the district's chief education adviser, said a deal could be reached before the union's 700-member House of Delegates was to meet in the afternoon, the Chicago Tribune reported. A tentative deal could mean teachers would be back in the classroom Monday.

"We are tired, but we are so close," she told reporters.

David Vitale, board president of the nation's third-largest school district, said there was significant progress Thursday.

"We've got some number crunching to do overnight and we're going to be back here tomorrow and see if we can't finish this up," Vitale said late Thursday.

He said getting a deal in place by 2 p.m. ahead of Friday's union delegates' meeting was "realistic."

Teachers union President Karen Lewis wasn't as optimistic.

"I don't know, I don't know. I certainly hope so," she said.

Meanwhile, the teachers' union in Boston took out a full-page ad Friday in the Chicago Sun-Times, saying there were "a few flaws" in Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's assessment of the Boston contract settlement regarding job protection, which he had referenced, WBBM-TV, Chicago, reported.

Chicago teachers said they hoped a deal would be reached in the walkout that has affected 350,000 students and 26,000 teachers.

"We can't just do this again. This has to be the finish line," fourth-grade teacher Michelle Gunderson told the Chicago Tribune.

"I feel like everything has slid a week back," Christopher Barker, who teaches math and humanities at an elementary school, told the newspaper.

He said he needed to finish evaluating new students, call parents and build his student library.

Lewis told reporters earlier she was praying a deal could be reached.

"I'm on my knees for that. Please, yes, I'm hoping for Monday," she said.

If a deal is ready, delegates could vote on it after being updated. A deal also would need to be approved by the union's full membership. But the vote, which would take a week or more to complete, would happen while classes resume, union officials said.

If a deal is not ready, the delegates could send negotiators back to the table and meet again through the weekend for another update and possible vote, union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin told the Sun-Times.

Delegates could also decide to let students return to school while negotiators talk -- a possibility Emanuel and city aldermen have pushed.

But Lewis said Thursday she preferred for the union to stay on strike until a deal is finalized.

The union scheduled a "Wisconsin-style" labor rally at a Chicago park for noon Saturday.

If a deal is done, the rally could be a victory party. If it's not, it could be a show of strength for what the union calls a "fair contract,'' the Sun-Times said.

The district proposal softens an evaluation system demanded by Emanuel that the union said could put nearly 30 percent of public school teachers on the path to dismissal if performance doesn't improve within a year.

Under the proposal, evaluations of tenured teachers during the first year could not result in dismissal and later evaluations could be appealed, school officials told the Tribune.

In addition, health insurance rates would not rise for teachers with families, as had been planned, if the union agreed to take part in a wellness program.

And teachers' raises -- averaging 16 percent over four years at a cost of $320 million -- could not be rescinded due to an economic crisis.

The board stripped teachers of a 4 percent raise last year, sparking union distrust of the mayor.

To pay for those raises, other expenses would be cut, some of the district's 600 schools might be closed and students might get shifted to charter schools that typically hire lower-paid non-union workers and get supplemental funding from charitable sources, the Tribune said.

The strike is Chicago's first in 25 years and the first in a major city in a half-dozen years.

Source: Copyright United Press International 2012

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