Teachers, students return to Chicago public schools


Teachers, students return to Chicago public schools

By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Diane Rado and Bill Ruthhart Tribune reporters8:17 a.m. CDT, September 19, 2012


More than 350,000 Chicago public school students returned to class this morning after union officials overwhelmingly called off a seven-day teachers strike.

Sixteen-year-old Jayton Howard, on his way to Paul Robeson High School on the South Side, summed up his feelings in a word: “Great.”

Parents were happy too. Some expressed hope that the new contract will benefit students in a district grappling with high dropout rates and poor performance.

“They’ll win from the strike,” said Leslie Sabbs-Kizer, whose children attend elementary school.

Delegates for the Chicago Teachers Union voted Tuesday to call off the strike, paving the way for CTU’s entire membership to approve a contract in the coming weeks that will secure them a double-digit salary increase over the next three years, including raises for cost of living while maintaining other increases for experience and advanced education.

Though the union did not achieve the 30 percent base raise it initially sought, CTU President Karen Lewis claimed several victories.

She argued that the union had successfully rejected Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attempts to institute merit pay, fought off more stringent requirements in a new teacher evaluation system and secured a recall policy for top-performing teachers who are laid off because of school closings.

“We feel very positive about moving forward,” Lewis said. “We feel grateful that we have a united union, and that when a union moves together, amazing things happen.”

For Emanuel, the vote draws to a close a standoff that had dragged into a second week and garnered national attention focused on not only the strike’s merits but the mayor’s role in it.

In the tentative agreement, Emanuel solidified his No. 1 reform objective of lengthening what had been one of the nation’s shortest school days and year.

The mayor also managed to secure a deal that gives teachers smaller raises than they had received under their previous five-year contract, maintains principals’ right to determine which teachers will be hired and institutes, for the first time, a teacher evaluation system set out by state law that takes into account student performance.

“This settlement is an honest compromise. It means returning our schools to their primary purpose: the education of our children,” Emanuel said.

“In this contract, we gave our children a seat at the table. In past negotiations, taxpayers paid more, but our kids got less. This time, our taxpayers are paying less, and our kids are getting more.”

Year At issue
2012 Teacher pay, teacher evaluations, health insurance payments, ability to rescind raises, control over teacher hiring
1987 Teachers pay and the length of the school year
1985 Teacher pay and length of the new contract
1984 School board’s effort to deduct health insurance costs from teacher pay
1983 Teacher pay in relation a previous agreement with school unions
1980 Pay for days worked during financial crisis and changes to the school board’s spending cuts, which included job cuts
1975 Restoring proposed teacher tax cuts, class size, a cost-of-living raise, and reduction of clerical work by elementary school teachers
1973 Teacher pay, class size
1971 Teacher pay, class size and improvement in building conditions
1969 Better support from the Illinois Board of Education to get state funds, class size, staffing cuts

While the mayor calmly delivered his prepared remarks Tuesday night in the library of Walter Payton College Prep, he had shown his share of frustration through a yearlong fight with the union.

That included directing CPS and city attorneys on Monday to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction that would send teachers back to school. A Cook County judge had set a hearing for Wednesday, waiting for the outcome of the union’s vote.

But Lewis and union delegates said the potential for a judge to control the fate of their strike had no factor in Tuesday’s decision.

Once the hundreds of delegates were packed into a union hall near Chinatown, their only focus was on the details of the deal and why they should support it.

First, a handful of union leaders took the stage in the auditorium, explaining specific provisions of the contract proposal, said delegate Haley Underwood. Then members of the union’s bargaining team explained that even though some teachers in their own schools still wanted to strike, the entire team had decided it was time to end the walkout.

Vice President Jesse Sharkey followed with more persuasion, then came the closing act: Lewis.

The tough-talking union boss had five words for her fellow teachers, Underwood said.

“It’s time to go back.”

Delegates were then asked, on a voice vote, whether they wanted to suspend the strike.

They responded by shouting, “Yes!” in an overwhelming majority.

After the vote, a crowd of teachers rushed out the doors, shouting, “We’re back!” and “The strike is over!”

“I am jumping up and down,” said Underwood, a physical education teacher at Cardenas Elementary School in Little Village. “I’m so excited, excited to see my kids. I feel we won. The unity we gained is going to move us forward, and we’ll continue to fight for the soul of public education.”

The atmosphere outside the union hall was heady, with the union still selling red “solidarity” T-shirts.

Some teachers carried red and white signs touting: “CTU: We’re proud of you” and “CTU shows U.S. Labor How to Fight.”

A variety of factors contributed to how much teachers will earn under the deal.

The contract would give teachers base salary raises of 3 percent this year and 2 percent in each of the following two years. They could receive another 3 percent raise if both sides agree to a fourth year in the contract.

Those raises are in addition to other salary bumps for experience and pursuing a graduate degree that would push the overall average pay raise for teachers to 17.6 percent over four years, according to CPS. The district did not offer an average raise estimate for three years.

The contract will not be official until the union’s full membership votes to approve it in the coming weeks.

“There is no such thing as a contract that will make all of us happy, and we’re realistic about that,” Lewis said. “The other issue is, do we stay on strike forever until every little thing we want is capable of being gotten? We don’t think like that.”

As the two sides worked for months to hammer out a deal, CPS officials, led by Emanuel, and union leaders, led by Lewis, engaged in a public relations war to win support for their side.

With talks sputtering in late August, the CTU voted to authorize a strike date of Sept. 10, leading Emanuel to accuse teachers of failing Chicago’s students by choosing to walk out over contract demands.

Negotiations picked up in the days leading up to the strike date, but Lewis announced late Sept. 9 that there would be no school the next morning.

CPS and the union reached a breakthrough Friday as both sides agreed on a tentative framework for a new deal, but that was not enough. Teachers wanted more time — and details.

On Tuesday they decided they had had enough of both.

Teachers had let Lewis know exactly what they wanted, said delegate Jeffery Blackwell, a special education teacher.

In the end, he said, “She didn’t have to sell anything. The members were ready.”

Tribune reporters John Byrne, Joel Hood and Hal Dardick contributed.





Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune

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