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Strike suspended: Back to school for Chicago teachers

September 18, 2012|By Michael Muskal

Representatives of unionized teachers voted Tuesday to end Chicago’s strike, and 350,000 students in the nation's third-largest school district will be back in class Wednesday.

The union’s House of Delegates voted to end the seven-school-day walkout after debating details of a proposed settlement. Teachers, who will take several weeks to decide whether to accept the agreement, can return to their classrooms. 

Over the weekend, delegates rebuffed the tentative pact negotiated last week between the union and Chicago Public Schools. Delegates said they needed more details on such key issues as the use of test scores in preparing teacher evaluations, job security and the recall of teachers who have been laid off.

Before the debate among the delegates, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said she would vote for the proposal, calling it the best deal available.

“I don't think it's a great deal,” Lewis said. “I'm just more proud of our union. The contract is the contract. It's nothing that I take ownership over.”

Many teachers said they felt conflicted: They were eager to go back to work but determined to see their efforts through to the end.

“I'm desperately wanting to get back to my lab experiments with my kids,” Heath Davis, a seventh-grade science teacher who was picketing outside Goethe Elementary School on the city's West Side, told the Associated Press.

 “We don't want to move too quickly,” said Davis, a delegate who was consulting with other teachers at his school before deciding how to vote. “We want to make sure our questions are answered.”

Teachers walked off their jobs Sept. 10 when the sides couldn’t reach an agreement on the evaluation issue. As part of the agreement, test scores would be used in preparing the evaluations but the results would count for only a portion of the teacher’s evaluation.

Teachers also will receive raises, but they agree to work longer days – a key demand by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a special target of teacher wrath. The three-year proposed contract calls for annual increases of 3%, 2% and  2%. There is also an optional fourth year with another 3% raise.

In Chicago, the starting teacher salary is roughly $49,000 per year, and the average is about $76,000.

After delegates voted to continue the strike, Emanuel ordered the city to go to court to seek to end the walkout with a temporary injunction. A hearing on that matter, which is not moot, was scheduled for Wednesday.

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