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'Agreement in principle' reached in teachers strike

September 14, 2012 8:16:59 PM PDT
Chicago public school students could be back in the classrooms on Monday after an "agreement in principal" was reached Friday with striking teachers.

The school board president says parents should have their children ready to return to school on Monday. The teachers union president says she hopes that will happen.

Negotiations ended early Friday afternoon. The two sides will meet again Saturday morning.

The Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates gathered once more late Friday afternoon at the Operating Engineers Hall on the Southwest Side, ready to hear from their leader, CTU President Karen Lewis.

Lewis and her team chose not to present a framework of an agreement in principle to the crowd in red. Instead, there was a lot of talk on a range of controversial issues -- but the union is insisting on having essentially the final contract language in place before calling off the strike.

"We have been burned by the board before," Lewis said.

They will meet again on Sunday, when they could vote on ending or at least suspending the strike.

Both sides are very optimistic that the strike appears to be nearing an end.

"Our delegates are not interested in signing something they haven't seen," said CTU President Karen Lewis. "A framework is one thing -- we think it's a framework that can get us to an agreement."

"As our colleagues on the union go through their process, and we go through ours, we're going to have our kids in school on Monday morning," said Chicago School Board President David Vitale.

This breakthrough in negotiations comes on the fifth day of the teachers strike. Both sides announced they reached the agreement in principle early Friday afternoon.

Many details still need to be worked out in the agreement. Once that work is done, the framework of a new contract must be approved by the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates, which votes on Sunday.

Then school could resume on Monday, so parents are being told to have their students ready.

Neither side wanted to talk about any specifics Friday afternoon, in marked contrast to the past week, when they have been explaining a lot of the different issues that have come to the bargaining table.

Not all the i's dotted, nor t's crossed, but the message from Chicago school board president David Vitale is that the heavy lifting is over, the framework is in place, and his direct advice is, "Have your kids ready for school Monday."

All that is contingent upon the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates approving what its negotiating team is recommending to them that they accept.

Negotiators on both sides say they believe they have the agreement -- the framework for an agreement -- that will bring an end to this weeklong strike.

"The board responded favorably to a proposal advanced by the union last night, and we think that may have broken the logjam in negotiations," said CTU Attorney Robert Bloch Friday afternoon.

The CTU's lead attorney would not say what proposal broke the logjam, though it is believed to hinge on the key intertwined issues of teacher evaluations and teacher recall.

Not long after the union said an agreement was at hand, the school board president said the same.

"I am pleased to tell you that we have in place frameworks around all of the major issues that should allow us to conclude this process," said Chicago school board president David Vitale.

The administration, too, declines to discuss any specifics, though CPS negotiators earlier had relaxed their position on the contentious issue of teacher evaluations, saying that in the first year of their use, they would use them for feedback only.

Both sides agree that what is left is language, and if the CTU's House of Delegates Sunday approves this tentative deal, schools are back in session Monday.

"We are hopeful that we will have a complete agreement done by Sunday, that when the House of Delegates review it, that they will have confidence in that agreement and that they will vote to suspend the strike so students can return to school on Monday," said Bloch.

Assuming an end to the strike, how does a cash-strapped district pay for what has been referred to as a four-year agreement with 16 percent in pay hikes?

"They're going to have to right-size the system," said the Civic Federation's Laurence Msall. "You're going to have to get rid of the under enrolled schools and eliminate non-performing schools and have a lot less schools and a lot less personnel to run the schools."

Where and how many under enrolled and underperforming schools would be closed has not been finalized.

Board president Vitale says there is no finalized plan for that yet. His message Friday -- and also the message from the union -- is that if they can work out the language, and both negotiating teams will go back at that Saturday, then the House of Delegates for the union will vote on Sunday, and if there aren't any hiccups, then there will be a final agreement, and kids will be back in the classroom on Monday morning.

Statement from Mayor Rahm Emanuel on The Tentative Contract Framework Reached by CPS and CTU
This tentative framework is an honest and principled compromise that is about who we all work for: our students. It preserves more time for learning in the classroom, provides more support teachers to excel at their craft, and gives principals the latitude and responsibility to build an environment in which our children can succeed. Now, our most important work continues: providing every child in every community of Chicago an education to match their potential.

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