Austin students return to school

Classes resume following end of teacher's strike this week

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By LORETTA A. RAGSDELL

Updated Sept. 19, 2012 - 6:10 p.m.

More than 350,000 Chicago Public School students returned to their classrooms this week after the Chicago Teachers' Union ended its eight-day strike on Tuesday.

Ninety-eight percent of the union's house of delegates voted Tuesday to end the strike after its leadership agreed to the Chicago Board of Education's latest contract offer. While both sides have claimed victory, CTU President Karen Lewis and many CTU members say the fight is far from over. Still under discussion are issues such as class size.

Reiterating his belief that the strike was illegal, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday prior to the union's vote continued to call the walkout "a strike of choice." Emanuel had threatened legal action to force the teacher's back to work, seeking an injunction from the courts. Circuit Court Judge Peter Flynn did not grant the injunction, yet said he would hear the arguments from both parties on Wednesday of this week, which won't happen now that the strike is over.

The strike, which was the city's first since 1987, lasted 12 days. The house of delegates agreed to end the strike after several hours debating at a closed meeting held near Chinatown. Details of the meeting were not immediately made public by the union.

The rank-and-file membership still must vote on the contract, but that didn't stop classes from resuming on Wednesday at schools in Austin and around the city.

The new contract gives teachers a 3-percent cost-of-living raise in the contract's first year, followed by 2-percent raises in the second and third years. An optional fourth year would offer a 3-percent raise again if both the union and CPS agree to extend the deal.

The board also agreed to hire more than 500 extra teachers, including those in physical education, music and art.

The contract also establishes a CPS hiring pool of laid-off teachers, promising that half of all new teachers hired will come from that pool. According to fact sheets distributed by CPS and the union, principals maintain the right to hire the teachers they want. At schools slated to be closed or consolidated, highly-rated teachers have the opportunity to follow their students to new schools, with spots being given out in order of best performance.

The school board compromised on its goal of tying teachers' evaluation to student performance on standardized test scores. The board conceded to the union's wishes by limiting the evaluations to 70 percent teacher practice and 30 percent test scores.

Dwayne Truss, an Austin activist who supported the teachers throughout the strike, is troubled by the teacher evaluation provision in the deal. Truss questions whether neighborhoods with troubled schools, like Austin, will be able to attract quality teachers with such an unproven provision in place in the contract. Truss argues that CPS should have piloted that provision at one of its schools first to gauge is effectiveness.

"How are we going to keep or attract teachers when you say test scores are going to be part of the mix," he said.

In the wake of the new contract agreement, CPS has also proposed closing 100 schools. That decision also troubles Truss, who says while CPS is closing neighborhood schools in areas like Austin, other community's are getting new charter and magnet schools.

Still, teachers, students, and their parents celebrated the end of the strike this week. CPS has not announced how the lost schooldays from the strike will be made up.

The strike began on Monday Sept. 10, with Chicago teachers walking the picket line and holding rallies all of last week. Teachers from Marshall High School in West Garfield Park hosted a large rally and march last Wednesday. Teachers at Austin schools such as Ella Flagg and Emmett elementary marched on line last week.

CTU President Lewis last Saturday led a rally of more than 25,000 supporters at Union Park near Ashland and Lake Street.

"We are still on strike," Lewis said to the high-energy crowd. "We have a framework for an agreement; we don't have an agreement. Until you hear it from CTU, it isn't true."

Terry Dean and Ben Meyerson contributed to this report

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