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Editorial: Call off the strike

Updated: September 16, 2012 4:20PM

At 3 p.m. today the Chicago Teachers Union should call off the strike.

The deal released late Saturday is a win for both the teachers and the schools.

It represents the outer limits of what the Chicago Board of Education can do, both on salary and on policy. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s schools team has already compromised considerably and Chicago teachers can walk away proud, pointing to major gains.

On Monday, Chicago students must return to school.

Because it is the union that votes today on calling off the strike, the focus is on what they have won — for themselves and their students. But make no mistake, Emanuel and the board of education also made significant gains for Chicago schools too.

Together, their gains represent real progress for Chicago.

Emanuel and his board of education came out of the gate in these talks with many bitter pills for teachers to swallow: a longer day and year but only a small raise, no teacher recall, a threat to class size limits, an evaluation based in part on student performance.

Lewis fought for her members and her vision of a better school system, propelling her to rock-star status in the national labor movement.

Lewis and her team successfully beat back the board in many key areas:

† Raise: CTU won a substantial raise in a very difficult economic climate. A total of 11 percent over four years plus raises for each extra year of service and education, bringing a four year total to an average of 16 percent.

† Steps: Maintained “step” raises for each extra year of service on top of the cost-of-living raise, despite the board’s best effort to replace this antiquated practice with pay raises based on extra responsibilities and student performance.

† Merit pay: No merit pay raises, which we thought the union should have been open to.

† Better day: The hiring of 512 teachers in art, music, physical education and other subjects to help make the longer day a better one.

† Fairness: Ensured fairness in a new evaluation system and for quality laid-off teachers.

The board listened to Chicago’s teachers and adjusted its proposals.

But the board did not cave.

Chicago’s new contract sets the stage for major change that we hope will significantly improve teaching and learning.

The board stood up for core principles: fiscal responsibility, preserving a principal’s right to pick her own staff and a meaningful evaluation that helps teachers improve and moves out those who aren’t fit for the job.

The deal ensures a longer school day and year for Chicago — a huge victory after Mayor Richard M. Daley tried and failed for years.

The new contract also creates a high bar for employment in Chicago for the first time. If CPS can pull this off, its potential is limitless. Nothing a school does matters more than choosing the right person for each of its classrooms.

This new high bar for employment is a key reason why the union was so intent on getting the new teacher evaluation right. Only teachers rated in the top two of four categories will be eligible for job openings. This affects teachers displaced by school closings, of which there will be many as Chicago begins closing its many half-empty schools.

Fairness dictated adjustments to the evaluation, as the union demanded. The CTU also fought to give displaced teachers special hiring considerations.

On evaluations, the union forced the board to create real opportunities to adjust a new system that starting this year will be based in part on student test scores, a controversial and untested method. This is key because evaluations dictate teaching hiring and firing. On hiring laid-off teachers, the board preserved a principal’s hiring freedom while giving a leg up to high-quality displaced teachers.

These two issues were the biggest stumbling blocks to a deal and the agreed-to changes strike an excellent balance — ensuring fairness without undue compromises.

The contract doesn’t fix all that ails the school system. The shabby conditions for students and teachers — a dismal student-to-social worker ratio, the need for libraries and air conditioning — aren’t remedied in any real way. But the teachers penetrated the public consciousness with these very real concerns in a deep and, we hope, lasting way.

The board also signed on to a bigger raise than it could afford, and its first task on Monday is figuring out how to pay for it. Still, the raise is worth the cost to honor teachers and boost morale. CPS is already in a deep fiscal hole; this just digs it in a little deeper. It puts that much more pressure on the board to do the very hard work ahead to rein in spending, including painful school closures and dramatic pension cost cuts.

Teachers, call this strike off. This is a day to celebrate.

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