No deal on teachers contract; strike going into 3rd day

September 11, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Leaders from both sides said they have been making progress but remain far apart on the issue of teacher evaluations.

"We tried to move in the board's direction today. At the end of day though they basically dug in their heels," said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey.

School board president David Vitale, who sat in negotiations all day, said the board has compromised, offering an updated proposal to the teachers. He wants a response or counter proposal before negotiations continue.

"It is time for us to get serious. So we've gotten serious," said Vitale.

Union officials said they viewed the proposal as an ultimatum but will review it overnight.

"We will be studying their proposal, and we will do what's best for the members," said CTU President Karen Lewis.

Chicago public school teachers were in their second day of strikes Tuesday. Thousands of teachers, nurses and social workers who are part of the CTU gathered at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and marched through the Loop. It was the second day of rallies downtown.

''We did not start this fight. Let's be very clear," Lewis told teachers.

"There's no control over the number of students we oversee and manage," Robin Bruschiato, CTU nurse, said. "Nationally they encourage 750 and I have 4,000.

"Last year 30 social workers left CPS. They re-hired 12. That's a big disparity for CPS," Beatrice Hutchison, CTU social worker, said.

The numbers were down from the rally on Monday, the first day of the strike, but were still significant enough to stop traffic as they crossed major streets as they headed toward Grant Park's Buckingham Fountain. Lewis joined the group during a break from negotiations.

She maintained there are many issues on the table, not just the two to which Mayor Rahm Emanuel refers repeatedly -- teacher recall and teacher evaluation.

"Understand this- there are 49 articles in the contract. We have agreed to only six," Lewis said. "The two key [issues], that's the mayor's talking points. Those aren't ours."

The union's rallying cry has gone global. Since the weekend, the strike has been one of the most talked about Twitter topics.

With at least 23 states waging similar battles over teacher evaluations, Chicago has become the tipping point.

National labor leaders made it clear: this is no longer a fight over one union's contract.

"This is far more than a labor struggle. This is a struggle for the heart and soul of public education, for the kids of Chicago," said Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president.

The mayor is no stranger to national policy battles. Tuesday night, took his case to a dozen parents at a West Side community center, again calling CTU's action "a strike of choice." "This is testing our parents. This is testing our city," said the mayor. "I promise you, we'll get this back on track."

Though President Obama has declined to pick sides, the mayor invoked the president's name, and one of his key education initiatives, on Tuesday.

"The president has weighed in. Every issue that we're talking about, about accountability of our schools, quality in our schools, the education of our children, is the core thrust of Race to the Top," Emanuel said, citing the United States Department of Education contest to spur reforms in American public schools.

Principals stand beside Mayor Emanuel

"Let me repeat: This was a strike of choice and it is the wrong choice for the children," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday.

Several CPS principals stood behind the mayor as he spoke about the strike -- and said why they believe they should preserve the right to hire who they want rather than be forced to bring in teachers who were laid off.

"It is a key issue about which direction we're going to take and whether we're going to have a school system built for accountability that holds our principal accountable in the school rather than downtown making the choice," Mayor Emanuel said.

"You can't be held accountable if you can't select the people you work with. It is just way too difficult," Mahalia Hines, former teacher and principal, said.

"It has been really important for me being held accountable to the school for figure out who are the best fits for our particular kids and our context," Ethan Nettestrom, principal at Skinner High School, said.

The union is concerned that in the future teachers that are laid off because of underutilized schools won't be guaranteed jobs at some of the reformed school.

"The principals did have the right to hire who they want, they were hired already... laid off through no fault of their own," Patrice Thomas, CPS teacher, said.

Meanwhile, CPS Children First sites continued to operate at schools across the city, providing a safe haven for children without another option. And the district has just announced that should the strike continue they will extend their hours from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., to give working parents some extra leeway.

"It's really tough. Teachers have their issues. CPS has its issues. But parents have their issues as well," Derek Vanderpool, parent, said.

Teachers at Tuesday's rally sympathized with parents, but say they will not back down.

"We want to solve this, we want to be in our classrooms. Right now kids are in our schools but they are not being taught...there is a missing link and we want to fill that link," Debbie Sharp, CPS teacher, said.

School officials optimistic; union wants more

Chicago School Board President David Vitale and Lewis arrived for another long day of negotiations Tuesday morning.

Vitale said he is confident CPS students will be back in class this week.

"This is a strike of choice on their side, and you know, when they have decided that it is time to move on and get our kids back in school, the kids will be back in school. We think that should be tomorrow," he said.

Not so fast, says Lewis. Shortly before 1 p.m. Wednesday, the CTU released a statement that out of 49 articles in the contract the union has only signed off on six. Lewis blames the school board and the Emanuel administration for misinforming the public.

The two main sticking points have nothing to do with money but reforms the teachers say are unfair.

One issue is teachers evaluations tied to standardized tests.

"I wish people would stop thinking that standardized tests tell us anything other than the socioeconomic background of our students. We don't control that," Lewis said.

Hiring back laid-off teachers is another issue on the table. The union wants a guarantee those teachers will get jobs. The school board says it will only guarantee the right to an interview.

"The principal should be responsible for his or her faculty. They need to be able to hire who they need to teach our kids, and if we're going to hold them accountable for the performance of their schools then they need to be able to choose who works in their school," said Vitale.

As teachers picket for a second day, Mayor Emanuel insists the two keys issues are not strikeable under state law. Lewis disagree.

"We have a completely legal work stoppage action here. we have done everything we were supposed to do," Lewis said.

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