CPS teachers, students return to class

September 19, 2012 (CHICAGO)

"I'm just glad to be back into it, back into my routine, and just doing well," David Kula, one of 350,000 CPS students, said.

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to suspend their strike on Tuesday after looking through the deal their leaders reached with the Chicago Board School. The tentative contract had been in the works for months -- and still has to be approved by rank-and-file teachers within the next two weeks.

"I hope they reached an agreement that's beneficial to all parties so the kids can stay in school and get the year underway," Enid Gonzalez, CPS parent, said.

All over the city, parents and students expressed their relief at the strike finally being over. Many pledged their support of the teacher's goals.

"I'm glad teachers got what they were seeking. I think teachers have a very hard job. I think they're right up there with fire and police," Marshall Porter, CPS parent, said.

Judy Vazquez walked her three children to school Wednesday in Humboldt Park. Her children spent the strike week at the Boys and Girls Club because she had to work.

"I have mixed feelings about the strike, but it is what it is," Vazquez said.

"I want to better my education, I don't want to sit around and do nothing all day, because that's pretty much what I did," Kayla Triche, CPS student, said.

Sidelined by the strike: CPS athletes return to football field

The Whitney Young Dolphins were 3-0 before their teachers walked off the job. The football team hopes to pick up right where it left off before they were sidelined by the strike.

"It may have been harder on the coaches than the kids," Tim Franken, Whitney Young head coach, said. "I was about to climb the wall."

Players say they didn't let the strike keep them from staying in shape.

"We organized practice and sent out emails to everybody on the team and had a Facebook group and told everybody to meet here at 10:00 a.m. and we practiced on our own," Tevin Taylor, Whitney Young football captain, said.

CPS football players missed one game due to the strike. Nine games are played in a regular season.

Because only eight games are need to qualify for post-season play, CPS football players can still qualify.

CPS football coordinator Mickey Pruitt said the teachers strike ended in the knick of time. One more day off, and the team would have missed another game. That would have made the Dolphins ineligible for the playoffs.

"Once we were on strike for the 7 days, we had to have three practices before we could play because of safety issues. Football is one of those sports that you need the practice time and getting back into the rhythm that you we in before," Pruitt said.

CTU contract: Who's gonna pick up the tab?

The new CTU contract will cost the already deficit-ridden city schools $295 million over the next four years. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel now has to figure out how to pay for it.

Mayor Emanuel welcomed children back to Chopin School Wednesday morning, and defended the price tag to city taxpayers.

"While it costs $75 million a year, the 2003 and 2007 contracts averaged $130 million a year," Mayor Emanuel said.

CPS Chief Education Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who helped negotiate the 4-year, 16-percent teacher salary increase.

"If I had my druthers, teachers would get like a 30, 40, 50-percent raise because I think they're some of the most valued people in our community. Our economic realities are our realities," Byrd Bennett said.

The mayor's political friends aired a TV ad Monday in which Emanuel tries to sell the $295 million dollar teacher contract as a plus for taxpayers.

The CPS deficit is in the range of $1 billion. On Wednesday, Emanuel would not rule out the possibility of a third consecutive CPS property tax increase. He also addressed the prospect of closing and consolidating hundreds of underutilized schools.

"They'll look at the academic standards. They'll look at the enrollment and they'll make some choices," Mayor Emanuel said.

The 90-percent minority race Chopin School -- where 90-percent of students qualify for free lunch -- is under-utilized. But 90-percent of its students perform at or above grade level. That's higher than kids at the under-utilized Lafayette School a few blocks away:

"We are confident that we are going to continue that trend-- 90-90-90 --and, yes, we're very confident that we'll be here," Michelle Garcia-Jones said.

The district will confirm none of its budget-reduction strategy, which it claims is still a work in progress. However, sources say more non-classroom related spending cuts are on the table and Mayor Emanuel will continue his effort to license a casino in Chicago, as he hopes to use revenues from it for public education.

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