Chicago Teachers Union Won't Vote on Contract Deal; Strike Continues

PHOTO: A large group of public school teachers marches past John Marshall Metropolitan High School, Sept. 12, 2012 in West Chicago.
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Chicago teachers union delegates declined to vote today on a tentative agreement reached in negotiations this week, so the city's first teachers' strike in over two decades will now continue into a second week.

Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said at a news conference held after a meeting of the union's delegates that the earliest public school classes will take place will be Wednesday. The delegates will meet again Tuesday.

"A clear majority wanted to stay out. That's why we're staying out," Lewis said of the delegates at today's meeting.

"Our members are not happy," she said. "They want to know if there is anything more they can get."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said this evening that the strike was illegal, and that he would seek a court order to force teachers back to the classroom.

"I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union," Emanuel said in a written statement. "This was a strike of choice and is now a delay of choice that is wrong for our children. Every day our kids are kept out of school is one more day we fail in our mission: to ensure that every child in every community has an education that matches their potential."

He said students should be back in the classroom "while the union works through its remaining issues."

Board of Education President David Vitale said there was no reason classes should not resume while the union reviews the tentative deal to end the walkout.

"I know that the vast majority of our teachers want to be in the classroom with their kids and so do our kids, we all need to put, we all need to put our children first," he said.

"While the CTU continues to delay ending the strike, we will do whatever we can can and whatever is needed to support our parents and our children," Vitale said.

There had been hope that the strike would end this weekend after a five-day lockout full of heated negotiations resulted in both sides reaching a "tentative agreement" that could put about 29,000 public school teachers and 350,000 students back in the classroom Monday.

Representatives from both the teachers' union and the city announced Friday that they had agreed on the framework of a deal and that they hoped to finalize it by Sunday, at which time the union's members would vote on it.

Robert Bloch, the attorney for the teacher's union, said negotiators had reached "the outlines of an agreement on the major issues."

"We are hopeful that we will have a complete agreement done by Sunday," he said.

That sentiment was echoed by David Vitale, the president of the Chicago Board of Education, who noted that "the framework" of a deal was in place.

Signs of a potential resolution had first emerged Thursday morning when the tone of top negotiators turned from angry bitterness to cautious optimism.

"We had what we think is pretty good movement, but of course the board always has to do a little bit of backsliding," Lewistold reporters Thursday outside the Hilton on Michigan Ave., the site of the negotiations.

After a marathon bargaining session Thursday, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the chief education officer for Chicago Public Schools, told reporters Friday morning that it had been a "beneficial night" that had brought the two sides "closer."

The two main sticking points in the talks had been the city's new proposed teacher evaluation system and the process for re-hiring laid off teachers.

The teachers' union has argued that the proposed evaluation system would emphasize students' standardized test scores too heavily and unfairly penalize teachers, while the district countered that the system already includes input from teachers and can be adjusted to change the weighting of the test scores.

That is just what the district did Friday, reducing the emphasis on student testing and making the evaluation system more forgiving for teachers.

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