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Mayor Emanuel to ask judge to end Chicago Teachers Union strike

Updated: October 18, 2012 6:17AM

With Chicago Teachers Union delegates voting to stay on strike at least through Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel Sunday accused the union of using children as “pawns’’ and vowed to seek a court order to halt the walkout.

The announcement from Emanuel came about an hour after CTU President Karen Lewis said “a clear majority’’ of delegates refused to suspend the strike until they had seen the exact contract language of the entire deal — something not expected until Tuesday.

Delegates just didn’t trust Chicago Public Schools not to try to slip one over on them if they called off the first CTU strike in 25 years without more study and discussion of the offer, Lewis said.

“Please write ‘trust’ in big giant letters because that’s what the problem is,’’ Lewis said.

Emanuel responded by news release, saying: “I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union. This was a strike of choice and is now a delay

of choice that is wrong for our children.’’

The mayor said he was instructing the city’s top lawyer — Corporation Counsel Steve Patton — to work with CPS’s attorney to file a Cook County Circuit Court injunction to “immediately end this strike and get our children back in the classrooms.”

He called the strike “illegal” on two grounds, claiming it is based on non-strikeable issues and is endangering the “health and safety of our children.’’

Emanuel last week claimed the union walked out over non-strikeable issues — but city officials stopped short of saying they would get the courts involved. That changed Sunday night after the union voted to stay on strike.

Union officials have insisted they have a clear right to strike over teacher evaluation procedures — one of the most contentious issues in dispute.

CTU attorney Robert Bloch said teachers contend that CPS wants to put too much weight on student test scores and other factors that are beyond a teacher’s control. However, he said, the union was able to ensure that 98 percent of teachers cannot be fired based solely on their students’ test scores.

Under the deal revealed Sunday, CPS would create a pool of highly-rated or vetted teachers from which principals must hire candidates. That marked a win for the system in its attempt to set some minimum thresholds for hiring.

The agreement also formalizes Emanuel’s signature longer day, stretching the elementary day from 5 3/4 hours to 7 hours and the high school day to mostly 7 1/2 hours.

Perhaps the biggest win for the union was the guarantee that qualified teachers would be able to follow their students to a new school if their current school is closed, consolidated or phased out.

Lewis said the fear the school board could close hundreds of schools was paramount to delegates’ desire to look over the contract language carefully.

“The big elephant in the room,’’ Lewis said, “is the closing of 200 schools”—a number CPS officials have denied.

“They [delegates] are extraordinarily concerned about it. It undergirds just about everything they talked about.’’

One delegate agreed the group wanted “something in writing to go on….We need more than just the bullet point break down.’’

“Our four percent raise that was supposed to be last year, we didn’t get it because of one sentence that said if they don’t have enough money in there, they don’t have to give it to us,’’ said the

delegate, who asked for anonymity. “How do we know that one sentence won’t be in this one?”

Actually, CPS officials said that financial opt-out clause that allowed the district to cancel last school year’s raise has been removed from the proposed contract, meaning promised raises would be guaranteed.

Lewis said the delegates would meet next on Tuesday, when contract language is expected to be completed and the Jewish holy period of Rosh Hashanah ends. She said union delegates wouldn’t meet again until Tuesday out of respect for the holy day.

That means, Lewis conceded, schools would not reopen until Wednesday at the earliest. That would stretch the strike into at least a seventh day of missed classes. The last strike — in 1987 — cost students 19 days of school.

Like Emanuel, School Board President David Vitale blasted the union’s decision not to end the strike Sunday.

“We will do whatever we can and whatever is needed to support our parents and our students. We all need to put our children first.”

Some 800 union delegates who make up the union’s House of Delegates gathered Sunday, with anxious parents wondering if they would vote to end the first CTU strike in 25 years.

But Lewis emerged just after 6 p.m. with the bad news — no class on Monday or Tuesday.

“They’re not happy with the agreement. They’d like it to be a lot better for us than it is,” Lewis said of the delegates. “No sides are ever completely happy but our members aren’t happy and they want

to have the opportunity to talk to their members.”

The new deal provides three years of raises — at 3, 2 and 2 percent — with the possibility of a fourth year at 3 percent, plus extra seniority bumps for more veteran teachers.

New promises also were secured to hire more social workers, counselors and nurses if money becomes available, including from tax increment financing sources. Some teachers were adamant that such support services are critical for children surrounded by violence and poverty.

Other new ground included provisions to curtail “bullying” by principals and other “abusive” administrative practices,’’ efforts to guarantee students and teachers have textbooks on Day One, and an

agreement to move to one school calendar, so that all schools start on the same day.

On its website, the CTU trumpeted in a news release that it had fought off an attempt to institute merit pay, something the union called “the star of national misguided school reform policies.’’ It

has been an approach pushed publicly by Emanuel.

However, both sides, in summaries of the contract, seized different issues to emphasize. Asked why the two summaries of the deal seemed so different, Lewis said, “they have a political spin machine.’’

Contributing: Sandra Guy, Lauren FitzPatrick

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