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Chicago Strike Talks Resume With Possibility of Agreement

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sept. 4, 2012. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The fourth day of the Chicago teachers strike opened with discussion of a possible settlement after union and school board negotiators said they made progress on how instructors are evaluated.

“We’ll work toward trying to get this thing done,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said today before the start of negotiations.

Even if there is a settlement, Lewis said it is “highly unlikely” students could be back in the classrooms tomorrow because the union’s House of Delegates would have to endorse the deal. That could delay the opening of schools to Sept. 17.

“We still have some major stuff we have to look at,” added Lewis, who has repeatedly said the strike’s outcome could shape the future of public education throughout the U.S.

Teachers walked off the job Sept. 10, closing classrooms to more than 350,000 students and marking the first such strike in the city since 1987. The dispute stemmed from efforts by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to lengthen the school day and year as well as the cancellation of a negotiated 4 percent pay increase.

The district faces a deficit of about $700 million that is projected to rise to $1 billion next year.

Resisting Rahm

The strike represents the first significant resistance to efforts by Emanuel, the former chief of staff to Democratic President Barack Obama, to restructure the operation of the nation’s third-largest city and its school district, which he controls.

Unions have been among the strongest supporters of Democrats nationwide, and an extended walkout in Chicago, the president’s hometown and a bastion of party strength, risks undermining backing for Obama in the November election. At the same time, Emanuel faces financial pressures, produced largely by accumulated pension liabilities from unionized workers.

“We will remember you at the voting day,” read the sign from one picketer at a high school yesterday, one of several sites where teachers protested.

By striking, the CTU is taking a stand against a nationwide movement to partly measure the effectiveness of teachers through test scores of their students. The school board had proposed that at least 25 percent of a teacher’s rating during the contract’s first two years be based on their pupils’ academic performance. That would rise to 30 percent in the third year.

The union said the provision would prompt the firing of thousands of teachers. The Chicago Sun-Times reported today that Emanuel’s negotiators had offered a concession that would allow some poor-performing teachers to stay as long as subsequent scores didn’t dramatically decline.

While the district is proposing a 16 percent pay increase for teachers over the four years of the contract, the means to fund that is unclear. A spokeswoman for Emanuel denied a report in the Chicago Tribune that the mayor is considering closing 80 to 120 underperforming schools.

“We’re only focusing on ending the strike,” said Sarah Hamilton.

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