Negotiators in the ongoing strike by Chicago area teachers are reporting that an end to the strike may be in sight. Students and teachers, they say, could be back in the classroom as early as Friday, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“We feel like we’re in a pretty good place, we’ve made a lot of progress today,” said Chicago Teachers' Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis late Wednesday night as she left negotiations. “We spent a lot of time on evaluation. We still have a lot of work to do but it seems like we’re definitely coming much closer together than we were certainly this morning.”
When asked when classes would resume, Lewis replied, "Let's hope for Friday."
The strike, now in its fourth day, has pitted members of CTU against the Chicago Public School District (CPS) and the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former Democratic congressman and erstwhile Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama.
Teachers were presented with a revised contract proposal on Wednesday under which "teacher raises would be structured differently, as requested by the union; evaluations of tenured teachers during the first year could not result in dismissal; later evaluations could be appealed; and health insurance rates would hold steady if the union agreed to take part in a wellness program."
CTU is asking, among other things, that the school district deliver on a promised pay-raise that went instead to Chicago police, better classroom conditions, smaller class sizes (Chicago has the most crowded classrooms in Illinois, with average kindergarten class size hovering around 40 students per teacher), compensation for hours the district plans to add to the school day and, in particular, they are asking that the district not institute a test-based teacher evaluation system, which could cost up to 28 percent of Chicago teachers their jobs.
School district President David Vitale also seemed to feel that classes could be back in session by Friday, telling the Tribune on Wednesday night, "We had really good discussions and proposals on the most difficult issues that we face. We’re hopeful we can actually come together around this. Unfortunately they’re not going to be back to school tomorrow, and we’ll hope for Friday.”
Also at issue is the Emanuel administration's attempt to obtain funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to open 60 charter schools in the Chicago area. Charter schools receive funding from private sources and typically hire non-union employees in order to pay lower wages and ask employees to work longer hours and a longer school year.