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Chicago School Strike Said to Near End With Possible Deal

Chicago teachers and negotiators for Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed on the outlines of a contract clearing the way to end a strike and return 350,000 public-school students to classes on Sept. 17.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and members of her bargaining team, who presented the deal to more than 800 members of the union’s House of Delegates today, were greeted with applause and chants of “CTU! CTU!”

“We think it is a framework for an agreement,” Lewis told reporters after speaking to the delegates, who will vote Sept. 16 on whether to suspend the strike. She said she is “hoping and praying” for a resumption of classes the following day.

Emanuel released a statement this evening, saying, “This tentative framework is an honest and principled compromise that is about who we all work for: our students.”

The union viewed the strike as a stand against a nationwide movement to measure the effectiveness of teachers partly through the 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.

While Lewis declined to discuss specifics of the contract, she said she was “very comfortable” with the terms of the teacher-evaluation procedure. She said she believes the language will “assuage” the concerns of union members.

Obama Impact

The strike was the most public show of resistance to Emanuel since the former chief of staff to Democratic President Barack Obama took office 16 months ago with a pledge to restructure operations of the nation’s third-largest city.

Lowering labor costs is central to Emanuel’s initiatives. Before the strike, the school district faced a deficit of about $700 million that was projected to rise to $1 billion next year.

Teachers in the third-largest U.S. school system went on strike for the first time in 25 years after negotiating with the mayor since November over his efforts to lengthen the school day and year, as well as his school board’s decision to cancel a 4 percent pay increase. In 1987, union members walked out for four weeks.

The school day was extended this year to 7 hours from 5 hours and 45 minutes at elementary schools, and to 7 1/2 hours from 7 hours at most high schools. The school year was lengthened to 180 days, from 170, which had been one of the shortest in the country.

Organized labor has traditionally been among the strongest supporters of Democrats nationwide, and an extended walkout in Chicago, the president’s hometown and a bastion of party strength, risked undermining Obama in the November election.

“We will remember you at the voting day,” read the sign carried by one picketer outside a high school where teachers protested Sept. 12.

At the same time, Emanuel faces financial pressures, produced largely by accumulated pension liabilities from unionized workers.

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