Teachers end strike but stay alert

Staff Writer

A contract agreement was made between the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and teachers and students returned to school last Wednesday after a seven-day strike. This is still not a time of rest for the union, said CTU President, Karen Lewis.

After going through the contract article by article, to the discomfort of some parents and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who tried to get a court injunction to force teachers back to school, 98 percent of the CTU’s delegates voted to end the strike Tuesday afternoon and allow the teachers to go back to school on Wednesday.

“We hope [Emanuel] carries out the contract in good faith,” Lewis said. “I hope it’s enforced.”

Lewis said while the CTU is not happy with a 4 percent raise, they agreed not to continue to fight the issue. Members went on to speak about some of the issues they did stand firm on.

“We held the line on the use of high stakes testing to evaluate teachers,” said Jesse Sharky, vice president of the CTU. “The state requires a minimum of 70 percent of teaching evaluation be based on practice and we think that is an important number. [CPS] wanted to make it 55 percent. We insisted on 70 and that’s what we got.”

Christine Maley, financial secretary of the CTU, said the new contract also allows teachers to create their own lesson plans and that there is also language in the contract that protects teachers from being bullied by principals and managerial personnel.

Emanuel, who has released commercials regarding the outcome of the strike, highlighted parts of the new contract that he said were key including giving principals the right to hire their staff.

Although the merit-based pay idea did not make it into the contract, Emanuel pointed out that the teachers would have a new evaluation system based in part on student performance. For the first two years of the contract only 25 percent of the teachers’ evaluations will rely on student performance In year three, it will increase to
30 percent.

The longer school day, which was proposed by CPS and the hiring of laid-off teachers to staff longer school day programs were previously negotiated and agreed upon by both parties. The mayor agreed that CPS would hire about 500 displaced teachers to lead classes in non-core subjects such as physical education, art and music in order to provide a productive longer school day. Emanuel has not reported on how the cash-strapped school district will fund the longer school day.

Lewis said, as soon as she was elected CTU president she had to fight against the mass teacher layoffs, longer school days and other school conditions that led to the strike. She said although the strike is over, there will be no resting on her laurels. Altering teacher pensions and school closings are two of the issues she’s expecting the CTU will fight against in the new school year.

When he first came into office Emanuel said that he planned to close between 80 and 120 public schools and open more charter schools.