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Chicago teacher contract talks resume Saturday, still ‘disappointed,’ says one

The Chicago Teachers Uni officially opened its “Strike Headquarters” Saturday afternoas members prepared case they are forced walk off their

The Chicago Teachers Union officially opened its “Strike Headquarters” Saturday afternoon as members prepared in case they are forced to walk off their jobs on Monday, September 10th, 2012. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Time

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Updated: October 9, 2012 3:01PM

Chicago teacher contract talks resumed Saturday in an attempt to avert a threatened Monday walkout, with union leaders predicting an “intense” session ahead and Chicago Public School officials hoping for a breakthrough.

But as of Saturday afternoon, there wasn’t much movement, according to at least one teacher.

“We were very disappointed after being there all day yesterday. When we left we were very disappointed and as of today we’re still disappointed,” said Gloria Higgins, who is on the bargaining committee.

Chicago Teachers Union officials were heartened, though, Thursday by the addition of School Board President David Vitale to the talks, but emerged disappointed Friday.

CTU President Karen Lewis, looking grim and exhausted, said a new CPS proposal Friday did not address the union’s major issues, as promised.

As a result, Lewis said, the next few days of talks would be “intense.’’

Jesse Sharkey, the vice president of CTU, also said Saturday he was disappointed with Friday’s meeting.

“...We were very much hoping that yesterday we would begin an offer that could really bridge that gap,” he said as teachers made signs at 328 S. Marshfield. “The offer they came back with was disappointing, to say the least, and frankly, there was not enough pieces of the puzzle to make a picture. It’s not sufficient.”

For his part, Vitale was more upbeat, saying late Friday “we know we have on the table things that are positive, that we believe are positive from their standpoint. Whether they are adequate from their standpoint may be something we have to work on.

“It’s unpredictable but I think it’s close enough that it could breakthrough at any point,’’ he said.

Sharkey also added Saturday, “As long as there’s time, there’s always a possibility to resolve this without a strike.”

CTU officials said they could gather delegates required to affirm any deal within two hours or less, but would not call them together over the weekend to approve any strike date extension. A walkout would mark the first Chicago teachers strike in 25 years.

“We’re standing firm” on the Monday strike date, said CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin.

CPS officials cautioned parents to get their contingency plans ready for a Monday walkout, just in case. Some 144 schools have been set up as half-day contingency centers, offering students breakfast, lunch and activities. Lewis called the plans for them “a mess” and said she wouldn’t send her children there.

Key contentious issues in the talks are teacher cost of living raises, additional pay for experience, job security in the face of annual school closures and staff shakeups, and a new teacher evaluation process that ties teacher ratings in part to student test score growth.

CTU officials contend CPS’ offer of two percent raises in each of four years does not fairly compensate them for the 4 percent raise they lost this past school year and the longer and “harder” school year they will face this school year, with the introduction of a tougher new curriculum.

The union also has pushed for improved working conditions, such as smaller class sizes, more libraries, air-conditioned schools, and more social workers and counselors to address the increasing needs of students surrounded by violence -- all big-ticket items.

CPS officials contend they are seeking a “fair” contract, with raises for teachers, but are limited by funding and the threat of a $1 billion deficit at the end of this school year.

But Curie High School teacher Adam Heenan said the board has been anything but fair. He said CPS officials have “ignored” parents and teachers.

“We’re all pretty nervous of what could happen in the next 48 hours but I think we’re done with the bullying. It’s something we’re hoping to make sure stops,” said Heenan, who is on the CTU House of Delegates that will ultimately deny or accept the new contract from the bargaining team.

CPS parent Erica Clark agreed with Heenan.

“It’s about more than money...They [parents] don’t want a strike. The teachers don’t want a strike but sometimes you need to take a stand for what’s right. And this is a fight about the vision of education,” said Clark, founder of Parents 4 Teachers.

“Do we believe in the board’s vision of top down corporate management of schools? Telling teachers, telling parents to shut up and not do what’s right for kids? Or is it a vision that says parents, teachers, members of the community know what’s best for children and should be the key decision makers when it comes to what’s happening in our schools?”

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