Teachers strike continues: No classes Monday, Tuesday - FOX 32 News Chicago

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Teachers strike continues: No classes Monday, Tuesday

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CHICAGO (Associated Press) -

Chicago teachers uncomfortable with a tentative contract offer decided Sunday to remain on strike, insisting they needed more time to consider whether to end an acrimonious standoff with Mayor Rahm Emanuel that will keep 350,000 students out of class for at least a few more days.

Emanuel fired back Sunday night by instructing city attorneys to seek a court order forcing Chicago Teachers Union members back into the classroom. "This was a strike of choice and is now a delay of choice that is wrong for our children," he said in a statement.

The injunction was filed late Monday morning.

SEE: Emanuel files injunction to force end of CTU strike

Meeting a week after beginning the city's first teachers strike in 25 years, the union's 800-member House of Delegates didn't hold a planned formal vote on whether to suspend the strike. They had received a summary of a proposed settlement worked out over the weekend with officials from the nation's third largest school district.

Presented with a choice on whether to end talks that union president Karen Lewis had at one point called "a fight for the very soul of public education," the union's members told their leaders they "feel rushed." Months of contract negotiations have come down to two main issues central to the debate over the future of education across the United States: teacher evaluations and job security.

Lewis said they wanted more time to talk about a contract that would base teacher evaluations in part on how well students succeed and whether laid-off teachers would have first chance at open jobs in the district.

SEE: CTU/CPS Contract Details (PDF)

The union will meet again Tuesday, after the end of the Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.

"We felt more comfortable being able to take back what's on the table and let our constituents look at it and digest it," said Dean Refakes, a physical education teacher at Gompers Elementary School. "We can have a much better decision come Tuesday."

That timeline, however, means the soonest classes could resume would be Wednesday. That frustrated both Emanuel and some parents, who learned late at night a week ago Sunday that a flurry of last-minute negotiations had failed to produce a contract agreement and that the strike was on.

"I think a week is a long time to be wasting time. Another week would be murder. I don't think it's right," said Beatriz Fierro, the mother of a fifth grader. "They should be back in school. I don't think teachers should be on strike that long."

Working mom Dequita Wade said that when the strike started, she sent her son 15 miles away to a cousin's house so he wouldn't be left unsupervised in a neighborhood known for violent crime and gangs. She was hoping the union and district would work things out quickly.

"You had a whole week. This is beginning to be ridiculous," Wade said. "Are they going to keep prolonging things?"

Other parents continued to stand with the teachers. As teachers walked picket lines in the past week and rallied Saturday in a park near downtown, they were joined by parents who have had to scramble to find baby sitters or a supervised place for children to pass the time.

"I don't think they're wrong. The things they're asking for are within reason," said Pamela Edwards, who has sent her 16-year-old daughter to one of about 140 schools the district has kept open during the strike to provide meals and supervision.

Others said they understand why teachers are taking their time.

"As much as we want our kids back in school, teachers need to make sure they have dotted all their I's and crossed their T's," said Becky Malone, mother of a second grader and fourth grader. "What's the point of going on strike if you don't get everything you need out of it? For parents, it'll be no more of a challenge than it's been in the past week."

Emanuel didn't appear at a brief news conference Sunday night with city school board president David Vitale, who said 147 schools staffed with non-union workers and central office employees would be open Monday for students who are dependent on school-provided meals.

SEE: Vitale: 'We will do whatever we can'

The walkout, the first for a major American city in at least six years, canceled classes for students who just returned from summer vacation and forced tens of thousands of parents to find alternatives for idle children, including many whose neighborhoods have been wracked by gang violence in recent months.

With an average salary of $76,000, Chicago teachers are among the highest-paid in the nation.

The contract outline calls for annual raises, but it doesn't restore a 4 percent raise that was rescinded by the mayor last year.

But money isn't the main point of contention. Second grade teacher Julie McDevitt said many teachers headed into Sunday's meeting were unhappy with the wording of some contract provisions contained in the rough outline released late Saturday, include provisions dealing with overcrowding, scarce office supplies and plans to close schools.

Lewis said delegates also weren't willing to go back to the classroom while contract language was amended because of the level of distrust between the union and the city, and the fact the settlement on the table remains tentative.

"The trust level is just not there," Lewis said. "You have a population of people who are frightened of never being able to work for no fault of their own. They just don't have the trust."

Emanuel, who did not personally negotiate the deal but monitored the talks through aides, has pushed hard for a contract that includes basing evaluations in part on student performance. The union contends such a system is unfair because it does not take into account outside factors that affect student performance such as poverty, violence and homelessness.

The union also pushed for a policy to give laid-off teachers first dibs on open jobs anywhere in the district, which the city said that would keep principals from hiring the teachers they thought best qualified for the position.

"They're still not happy with the evaluation(s)," Lewis said. "They're not happy with the recall. They don't like the idea that people's recall benefits are cut in half."

Emanuel showed his frustration at the striking public school teachers in a written statement Sunday night.

"This was a strike of choice and is now a delay of choice that is wrong for our children," Emanuel said.

The strike has shined a spotlight on Emanuel's leadership more than ever, and some experts have suggested the new contract - which features annual pay raises and other benefits - is a win for the union.

"I'm hard-pressed to imagine how they could have done much better," said Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "This is a very impressive outcome for the teachers."

The teachers walked out Sept. 10 after months of tense contract talks that for a time appeared to be headed toward a peaceful resolution.

Emanuel and the union agreed in July on a deal to implement a longer school day with a plan to hire back 477 teachers who had been laid off rather than pay regular teachers more to work longer hours. That raised hopes the contract would be settled before the start of fall classes, but bargaining stalled on other issues.

Almost from the beginning, the two sides couldn't even agree on whether they were close to a deal. Emanuel said an agreement was within easy reach and could be sealed with school in session. The union insisted that dozens of issues remained unresolved.

To win friends, the union representing 25,500 teachers engaged in something of a publicity campaign, telling parents repeatedly about problems with schools and the barriers that have made it more difficult to serve their kids. They described classrooms that are stifling hot without air conditioning, important books that are unavailable and supplies as basic as toilet paper that are sometimes in short supply.

The strike upended a district in which the vast majority of students are poor and minority. It also raised the concerns of parents who worried not just about their kids' education but their safety. Chicago's gang violence has spiked this year, with scores of shootings reported throughout the summer and bystanders sometimes caught in the crossfire.

"I don't like being on strike. Nobody in my school likes being on strike, but we understand the reason. It's not an easy process," said Michael Bochner, a teacher at Cesar Chavez Elementary.

"My membership," he said, "really wants to go back to work."

According to a release by the CTU, the new proposed CTU/CPS contract will:

  • Secure Raises & Ensure Fair Compensation: The CTU wants a three-year contract. It will secure a 3% raise in the first year, 2% raise in the second and 2% raise in the third, with the option to extend to a 4th year by mutual agreement at another 3% raise.
  • Defeat Merit Pay: The CTU successfully fought the star of national misguided school reform policies. The Board agreed to move away from "Differentiated Compensation," which would have allowed them to pay one set of teachers (based on unknown criteria) one set of pay versus another set of pay for others.
  • Preserve Steps & Lanes: The new contract will preserve the full value of teachers and paraprofessionals career ladder (steps); and, it will increased the value of the highest steps (14,15 and 16)
  • Provide A Better School Day: The Board will hire 512 additional ‘special' teachers in art, music, physical education, world languages and other classes to ensure students receive a better school day, a demand thousands of parents have called for since last year
  • Ensures Job Security: Creates a "CPS Hiring Pool," which demands that one-half of all of CPS hires must be displaced (laid-off) members.
  • Adds An Anti-Bullying Provision: No more bullying by principals and managerial personnel. The new language will curtail some of the abusive practices that have run rampant in many neighborhood schools.
  • Paraprofessional & Clinicians Prep Time: The new contract will guarantee preps for clinicians.
  • Racial Diversity: The CTU continues to fight the District on its lay-off policies that has led to a record number of African American educators being laid off and eventually terminated by the District. The new contract will ensure that CPS recruits a racially diverse teaching force.
  • New Recall Rights & Tackling School Closings: Acknowledging, the CTU will continue its ongoing legal and legislative fight for a moratorium on all school closings, turnarounds and phase-outs, the new contract requires teachers to "follow their students" in all school actions. This will reduce instability among students and educators. The contract will also have 10 months of "true recall" to the same school if a position opens.
  • Fairer Evaluation Procedures: The new contract will limit CPS to 70% "teacher practice," 30% "student growth" (or test scores)—which is the minimum by state law. It also secures in the first year of implementation of the new evaluation procedures there will be "no harmful consequences" for tenured teachers. It also secures a new right—the right to appeal a Neutral rating.
  • Reimbursement for School Supplies: The contract will require the District to reimburse educators for the purchase of school supplies up to $250.
  • Additional Wrap-Around Services: The Board agrees to commit to hire nurses, social workers and school counselors if it gets new revenue. Over the past several months, the CTU has identified several sources of new revenue, including the Tax Increment Financing program.
  • Books on Day One: For the first time, the new contract will guarantee all CPS students and educators have textbooks on day one and will not have to wait up to six weeks for learning materials.
  • Unified School Calendar: The new contract will improve language on a unified calendar. The District will have one calendar for the entire school district and get rid of Track E and Track R schools. All students and teaching personnel will begin on the same schedule.
  • Reduced Paperwork: The new contract ensures the new paperwork requirements are balanced against reduction of previous requirements.

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