Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, leaves the building late Sunday evening after Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates did't trust the Chicago Public Schools latest proposal. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
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Updated: October 18, 2012 6:07AM
As Chicago teachers spend the next two days studying the fine print of their proposed contract, they’ll discover something that was painfully obvious on Sunday:
Not only did Chicago teachers get a fair deal, the contract is the very best they are going to get.
When union delegates return on Tuesday, they have no choice but to lift this strike and send 350,000 children back to school.
If not, Mayor Rahm Emanuel might force them. On Sunday night Emanuel said he intended to go to court to force schools open. He argues that the strike is illegal.
More important, the deal represents the outer limits of what the Chicago Board of Education can do, both on salary and on policy. Emanuel’s schools team has already compromised considerably, allowing teachers to walk back into class proudly, pointing to major gains.
The contract is not, as Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said Sunday, just “the deal we got. It is not a good deal by any stretch of the imagination.”
Chicago teachers should be able to read the full 186-page contract, not just a summary, as they demanded Sunday. The negotiations opened with the union being asked to swallow many bitter pills: a longer day and year but only a small raise, no teacher recall as major school closings loom, a threat to class size limits, an untested evaluation system.
But Lewis fought for her members and her vision for better schools. And in the end, CTU beat the board back in key areas: no merit pay; preserved raises for each extra year of service; a larger raise than CPS can afford and no health-care increases; the hiring of 512 teachers to help make the longer day a better one; guaranteed jobs for top-rated displaced teachers.
The board listened to Chicago’s teachers.
But the board did not cave.
It stood up for core principles: fiscal responsibility, preserving a principal’s right to pick her own staff, and an evaluation that helps teachers improve and moves out those who aren’t fit.
The deal ensures a longer school day and year for Chicago, a huge victory. It also creates a high bar for employment for the first time. If CPS can pull this off, its potential is limitless. Nothing a school does matters more than choosing who heads each classroom.
This new high bar is a key reason the union wanted to get the evaluation just right. The “elephant in the room,” Lewis said Sunday, is the board’s desire to shut down many of its half-empty schools, sending hundreds of veteran teachers out to find new jobs. Generally, only teachers rated in the top two of four categories can be hired in Chicago under the new contract. This could create problems: Will CPS water down its evaluations for lack of strong teachers? That’s something to watch.
But the idea is right on.
Fairness dictated adjustments to the evaluation, as the union demanded. The CTU also fought to give displaced teachers first dibs on jobs. These are the biggest stumbling blocks to union sign-off on a deal, but the agreed-to changes strike an excellent balance — ensuring fairness without undue compromises.
† Evaluation: The first year will be for fine-tuning, no stakes attached; the portion of evaluation based on student scores will top out at 30 percent, though it could rise under the next contract; a more rigorous appeals process; and teachers in the second-worst rating won’t face dismissal after two years, as CPS proposed, so long as their teaching improves.
† Recall: The board rightly rejected a blanket re-hiring policy for all displaced teachers, though they offered some guarantees for teachers from school closings, bumping up against a line that infringes on a principal’s hiring freedom. Displaced teachers who are highly rated can follow their students to a new school if an opening exists. Principals also must interview any well-rated applicants from a closed school.
The board signed on to a big raise and still must figure out how to pay for it. But the cost is worth it to honor teachers. CPS is already in a deep fiscal hole; this just digs it in a little deeper. The raise puts that much more pressure on the board to rein in spending, including moving ahead with painful school closures and dramatic pension cost cuts.
Teachers, take a day if you must. Then grab this deal while you still have it.