Chicago schools closed a fourth day due to continuing strike - FOX 32 News Chicago

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Significant progress in negotiations, CTU delegates meet Friday

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates said Thursday that a meeting has been called for 2 p.m. Friday. More than 700 delegates could vote to end the strike at this meeting.

CTU delegates were notified of the special meeting on Thursday, when the bargaining team is scheduled to give an update on contract talks. Pending approval of the contract by the union's full membership, they could vote to get Chicago Public School kids back into the classroom.

"We are optimistic, but we are still hammering things out," CTU President Karen Lewis said. "Teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians remain hopeful but energized."

KAREN LEWIS HAD A POSITIVE OUTLOOK GOING INTO TALKS

Lewis spoke to the media before going back to the bargaining table Thursday, saying her optimism on contract negotiations scored 9 out of 10 on getting students back in class by Monday.

"I'm praying, praying, praying - on my knees - for Monday," Lewis said.

But she also said they still had major issues to work out. The most contentious issues on the table have included teacher evaluations that incorporate students' standardized test scores and job security.

"We still have some major stuff we have to look at," she said. "Doing something fast is not the way to go. Haste makes waste."

The optimism was evident on the picket lines, too. Roughly 25,000 teachers have been on the picket line in the nation's third-largest school district.

"I know that we will have a good resolution to this, and I do believe it will be soon," said Michelle Gunderson, an elementary school teacher picketing on the city's North Side. The negotiators "do not mean to have us be embroiled in this for longer than we have to."

THE HEART OF THE MATTER: TEACHER EVALUATIONS

After meeting until just before midnight, news arose from the bargaining table Thursday that while there is no deal yet. But both the teachers union and school board said they made significant progress in contract negotiations Wednesday.

Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale said he thought both side surmised the evening to have been very productive, in a late night press conference.

Lewis said the school board softened their stance on the issue of teacher evaluations Wednesday, and that greatly improved the union's chances of agreeing to a contract proposal.

"We feel like we're in a pretty good place," Lewis said Wednesday. "We've made a lot of progress today. We spent a lot of time on evaluations. We still have a lot of work to do, but it seems like we are definitely coming much closer together than we were, certainly this morning."

SEE: Contract negotiations focus on teacher evaluations: CTU strike

The school board's latest proposal scaled back penalties to teachers after the two sides argued over what percent of student performance should be weighed and how that should be used to judge job performance.

Under an old proposal, the union estimated that 6,000 teachers could lose their jobs within two years.

The latest offer included provisions for evaluations of tenured teachers that would not result in dismissal in the first year. It also altered categories that teachers can be rated on and an appeals process.

School districts nationwide have grappled with teacher assessments. The Obama administration has given states incentives to use student performance as a component of evaluations, though the issue has been most contentious in Chicago.

Teachers have said it's unfair to use test scores to evaluate them, especially with other factors affecting student learning that they can't control: poverty, hunger and the inability to speak fluent English, to name just a few.

WHITE HOUSE PUTS PRESSURE ON MAYOR EMANUEL

Sources told FOX Chicago News that the White House has put tremendous pressure on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to wrap up the negotiating process, end the strike and get Chicago kids back in class.

The campaign office said the teachers' strike has drummed up so much national interest and scrutiny, that it is becoming an issue in the presidential campaign, which will take place in November of this year.

They would like the campaign to focus more on national issues of contention like health care, social security and fixing the economy, as opposed to a localized issue like the Chicago teachers' strike.

"If Lewis can pull this whole thing off, she will be the Michael Jordan of the unions," the source said.

Wednesday's front page of the Wall Street Journal noted that Lewis "has positioned herself as a champion of resistance to the national education reform movement, making Chicago a central battleground over control of U.S. public schools."

SEE: Chicago teachers' strike makes national headlines

But Lewis still expressed concern that after a contract is reached, the district plans to close up to 100 schools.

During a break in contact talks, Lewis said that plan is a sticking point in negotiations. She said the closings will lead to thousands of experienced and dedicated teachers being replaced and "actually having their careers destroyed."

SEE: Chicago teachers union president is brash advocate

School officials haven't denied underutilized schools will be closed. Emanuel said Wednesday it hasn't been decided how many will be shut.

Chicago's walkout canceled class for approximately 350,000 students and has left parents scrambling to make other arrangements for young children. The district has kept some schools open on a limited basis, mostly to provide meals and supervision. More than 80 percent of Chicago Public Schools students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

The walkout is the first Chicago teachers strike in 25 years. A 1987 walkout lasted 19 days.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called the strike unnecessary and urged the union to continue negotiating with students in class.

Negotiations resumed at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, at the Hilton.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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