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Emanuel: Deal is ‘honest compromise’

Updated: October 20, 2012 6:13AM



There was no need to count.

Inside a raucous union hall packed with people Tuesday night, a thunderous round of “ayes!” and pittance of “nays” halted the first Chicago teachers strike in 25 years.

With exhilaration and relief, delegates from the Chicago Teachers Union voted to return to work Wednesday morning.

“It was thunderous applause,” said delegate Andrew Martinek of Gage Park High School. “People were blowing whistles and clapping and cheering.”

“And a couple of people started to cry,” said Susan Hickey, an elementary school social worker. “It was very moving. We just all sort of stood up. Very quickly we adjourned the house, and everybody left.”

The hooting and hollering could be heard outside the Operating Engineers Hall, then smiling faces spilled out the doors.

Across town at one of the city’s premier high schools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the contract, with its teacher evaluations and his signature longer school day, for giving Chicago’s children a seat at the table.

“This settlement is an honest compromise,” Emanuel said. “It means a new day and new direction for the Chicago Public Schools.

“This time our taxpayers are paying less and our kids are getting more,” he said of the deal estimated to cost an additional $74 million a year, compared to $129 million a year in the last contract.

Then the mayor choked up as he called Chicago’s classrooms the only bridge between the city’s poor children and its promise of a future.

Becoming emotional, Emanuel said, “The classroom is where they learn not only do they have a place in the future of this city but they are the future of this city and we as adults have responsibilities to the children of the city of Chicago so they can live up to their future and their full potential.”

School board president David Vitale acknowledged coming to an agreement with the union wasn’t easy, and reminded everyone that the 29,000 members of the union still had to approve the final deal.

“It’s been a long road to get here,” Vitale said. “There is one step to go, but I’m sure we’ll get through that. I’m confident the members will see the value in this contract and pass it. This will transform the way we run this district, for the benefit of the teachers and the kids.”

CTU President Karen Lewis said the vote was approved by a margin of “like 98 percent to 2.”

“We said that it was time, that we couldn’t solve all the problems of the world with one contract. And it was time to suspend the strike.”

There were, nevertheless, some “die-hard hold-outs” in favor of continuing the walkout, Lewis said.

“We cannot get a perfect contract,” Lewis said. “There is no such thing as a contract that is going to make all of us happy.”

She said teachers were excited to return to work.

“I am so thrilled people are going back,” she said. “. . . Everybody is looking forward to seeing their kids tomorrow, I can guarantee you that.”

Chicago’s 350,000 children return to school after missing seven days of class during the strike.

No one yet knows when the time will be made up.

Chicago Public Schools wasted no time spreading the word, emailing parents and sending robocalls to their homes.

Their teachers are bursting to see them again.

“I absolutely can’t wait to get back into the classroom,” said Katherine Hogan, an 11th-grade English teacher at Social Justice High School.

Hogan said that while delegates from schools with shrinking enrollments were rightly scared about school closures, the meeting never got heated.

John Cusick, a fifth-grade teacher at Ray School, said despite the strike’s end, “We’re not done.”

He described the strike as something he would use with his students as a “teachable moment about standing up for yourself to bullies.”

Many teachers said their experience with the strike had changed the way they felt about their jobs.

“I realized how much support we have from the parents and the community,” said Tom Brady, a writing teacher at Henry Clay Elementary.

“The parents and the [people in the] city were with us, three-to-one against [Mayor] Rahm Emanuel,” said Rolando Vazquez, a delegate from Brighton Park Elementary School. “And we made a great show of strength.”

The delegates voted to suspend the strike but did not weigh in on the deal itself, he said. Vazquez said some delegates argued unsuccessfully to continue the strike.

Those who voted to stay on strike, delegates said, left quickly, dodging the media scrum outside the hall gates.

“We looked at what we lost and what we gained,” said delegate David Boby of Sullivan High. “The children of Chicago are the net winners because they are going to have their teachers back in their classrooms tomorrow.”

“There are things in the contract that represent respect for our expertise — for the professionals that we are,” said Suzanne Kosek, 52, a fourth-grade teacher at Sandoval Elementary.

That includes a joint CTU/CPS committee to review the evaluation process a year from now.

The contract represented compromises from both sides.

The union fell far short of its last public pay request for a pay hike of more than 20 percent in year one, and wound up instead with 3 percent the first year, followed by two years of 2 percent raises, and a
possible fourth year at 3 percent,
if the union wants to extend the deal.

But the CTU preserved traditional extra raises for experience and advanced degrees — increases that CPS had tried to kill off or radically change. All three raises together should give the average teacher a 17.6 percent pay hike over four years, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said.

The union also fought off a drive to push merit pay and other “pay for performance’’ pay plans upon teachers — something Lewis said the union received back-slapping calls about from around the country.

CPS preserves a principal’s right to hire teachers who will best fit into their schools; and wins a new teacher evaluation procedure that, for the first time, ties teachers’ ratings to the growth — including on standardized tests — of their students.

Teachers who Lewis said are “frightened’’ by an expected wave of school closings and charter school expansions were relieved to see provisions that allow highly-rated tenured teachers to follow their students from a closed school to a new one, if vacancies exist in their subject in the new building. Plus, union officials said, CPS committed to letting highly rated laid-off tenured teachers comprise half of all new hires, and to opening new full-time substitute teacher positions for them if necessary to make that quota.

On the teacher evaluation front, said CTU attorney Robert Bloch, the union was able to prevent any tenured teacher from being threatened with dismissal based solely on a drop in gains of her students from one year to the next. Even the best teachers turn out different gains in different years with kids, Bloch said.

But over and over during Wednesday’s excruciating blow-by-blow of the contract’s 49 articles and eight appendixes, teachers were delighted at new revelations about the contract. Some of them had no costs attached. CTU Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle said one of the biggest rounds of applause went to the clause that let teachers write their own lesson plans, rather than be forced to use a strict format.

“There were moments throughout the whole thing where people just got up and cheered,’’ said Gage Park’s Martinek. “They were like, ‘Oh my God. I can’t believe we got that. . . . Wow.’ Those little things that really impact our work day — that’s huge.’’

The contract did drop an opt-out provision that the board invoked last year to cancel the 4 percent raise, and according to a summary handed to reporters outside the meeting, “they must honor our raises.”

Because, said Martinek, a “huge, huge sticking point” continued to be the fact that “we feel we were robbed of the 4 percent.”

Sarah Simmons, 53, spent five days on the picket line, though she’s a midwife, not a teacher. The mother of an eighth-grader who attends Mancel Talcott Elementary strongly supported the strike.

“Obviously I’m glad it’s ending,” Simmons said of the strike. “But in some sense . . . the struggle is just beginning.”

Simmons referred to a “racist system” that disproportionately shuttered schools on the South and West sides of the city, unfairly impacting predominantly African-American teachers and students in those neighborhoods.

“Although teachers have a contract they think is workable, there are still so many inequities in Chicago’s public education,” Simmons said. “The strike has highlighted some of the deep structural problems in education.”

Contributing: Kim Janssen, Maudlyne Ihejirika and Art Golab



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