Strike rolls into 5th day; no deal after late-night talks

September 12, 2012 10:00:00 PM PDT
As a strike rolled into its fifth day, union and school officials wrapped up talks after midnight without a deal, despite both sides reporting progress in negotiations earlier and expressing optimism that an end was in sight.

Chicago School Board President David Vitale said his team had to study the financial implications of proposals made on the issue of teacher recall.

"We've got some number crunching to do overnight and we'll be back tomorrow," said Vitale. "Hopefully we can finish this up tomorrow ... we're really closing a lot of gaps."

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who looked weary, told reporters, "we have a lot of things we have to figure out ... we had some good conversations and I think that's a sign." She said there are many "interesting" ideas being batted around but would not specify.

The teachers strike, which began Monday in the nation's third largest public school system, has delayed the start of the school year for more than 350,000 public school children in the city.

Earlier in the day, CTU confirmed Chicago public school classes would not resume on Friday, September 14. A meeting of the CTU House of Delegates, which must ratify a deal, cannot be put together until Friday, Lewis said. So students will at least be out of school until Monday.

On Thursday morning, union and school officials walking into negotiations at the Chicago Hilton were greeted by teachers walking the picket lines, but both sides seemed hopeful.

"I'm a pretty optimistic person, so on a scale of 1-10 I'm like 9 because that is how I am," said Lewis.

"I would really say to you that there is no way, unless they get really nutsy, and we could not have an agreement getting our kids where they belong," Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CPS chief education officer, said.

A further sign of progress came later when the union announced it would convene its House of Delegates Thursday afternoon, presumably to vote on a tentative agreement. That meant school Friday would be canceled for a fifth day in a row.

"We want to make sure something is done right. Doing something fast is not the way to go. Haste makes waste," said Lewis.

The turning point came Wednesday night when school officials gave ground on the issue of teacher evaluations, reducing the weight given to student test scores in deciding those ratings.

CPS also agreed to make the evaluation system more forgiving for teachers who score low but not at the very bottom. Instead of being put on a path to dismissal, those low-scoring teachers will keep their jobs as long as their ratings don't get much worse.

"I think the mayor wants to get this done. He reads the polls," said Lewis.

If a tentative agreement is reached, the union's House of Delegates Friday could approve the deal, reject it or send it back to the bargaining table.

Even if talks re-start, the union could vote to return to work.

"I'm praying, praying, praying. I'm on my knees for that, please. Yes, I'm hoping for Monday," said Lewis.

Teachers march down Michigan Avenue

Wearing red shirts and carrying signs, several thousand teachers gathered outside the Hyatt on Wacker Drive downtown Thursday afternoon, directing much of their anger at school board member Penny Pritzker, whose family owns the hotel chain. They hoped to gain public support that carries over on to the negotiating table.

"We will not leave this table ... until we get what we deserve," Tara Stamps, teacher, shouted into a bullhorn.

The teacher said they are striking not only for themselves, but for their students and for public education in Chicago.

"None of us are in it for the money and we don't feel like we can teach properly," said Joe Blomberg, teacher.

"I miss my kids and I work in Englewood so they definitely need to be in school. What we're doing is necessary," said Brenda Shiller, teacher.

Led by a marching band, the teachers walked down Michigan Avenue to the plaza on Congress where they continued to rally. They heard their negotiating team express optimism that they can reach a deal soon.

Bob Beiger wanted to get back to coaching the Whitney Young cross country team but said the negotiations take precedence right now.

"This is an opportunity that we're not going to have for another four years to try to make the classroom better, and that's what we really want," he said.

Meanwhile, six additional parks were added to the Children First program, which now offers students full-schol-day length accommodations so parents can work during the strike.


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