Students back in the classrooms

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Strike 3rd Day 2 NEW

The school bell will ring for the first time in seven days Wednesday after the Chicago Teachers Union suspended the strike Tuesday.

Union President Karen Lewis said an overwhelming majority of the union’s 700-plus delegates were “grateful” and “elated” about heading back to class.

Lewis said the delegates voted 98 percent to 2 percent to suspend the strike. The full membership of more than 25,000 teacher will now vote on the contract. The process may take a couple of weeks, she said.

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

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, one to not mince words, called the strike one of “choice.” After news of the suspension, he said the settlement was an “honest compromise.”

“This settlement is an honest compromise. It means returning our schools to their primary purpose: the education of our children. It means a new day and a new direction for Chicago Public Schools,” said Emanuel, adding, “In this contract, we gave our children a true seat at the table. In past negotiations, taxpayers paid more but our kids got less – this time, our taxpayers are paying less and our kids are getting more. Because of past contracts, teachers and principals had to make false choices about where they spent their time, because there was so little of it. This contract is a break with past practices and brings a fundamental change that benefits our children. Now our students and teachers can return to classrooms across our City, where Chicago’s future is being shaped. Now that the negotiations are over, our most important work begins: providing every child in every community of Chicago an education to match their potential.”

Emanuel tried on Monday to get an injunction to force the teachers back in the classroom. He said the strike posed a danger to the public.

More than 147 Children First drop-off centers where students could get free breakfast and a morning of supervision were open six hours a day during the strike. The drop-off centers, or “hubs,” are manned by CPS administrators and can collectively hold 150,000 students. All male principals are serving as security support at each hub. More than 25,000 students are signed up to attend the sites during the strike.

It was the first CTU strike in 25 years, affecting more than 350,000 Chicago Public Schools students had returned from summer vacation. After months of contentious contract negotiations, teachers walked on Sept. 10 amidst growing support from parents and teachers nationwide.

Tortillia Henyard, a parent of two children at Joseph Kellman Corporate Community School on the West Side, said she supported the teachers and would again if they decided to vote against the contract.

“I’m happy my children will be able to get back to school, but, I hope they (teachers) get everything they wanted. If they don’t, they should go back on strike,” Henyard told the Defender.

The walkout was the first for a major American city in at least six years. It drew national attention because it posed a high-profile test for teachers unions, which have seen their political influence threatened by a growing reform movement. Unions have pushed back against efforts to expand charter schools, bring in private companies to help with failing schools and link teacher evaluations to student test scores.

When the two sides met at the bargaining table, money was only part of the problem.

With an average salary of $76,000, Chicago teachers are among the highest-paid in the nation. After weeks of talks, the district proposed a 16 percent raise over four years – far beyond what most American employers have offered in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

But the evaluations and job security measures stirred the most intense debate.

The union said the evaluation system was unfair because it relied too heavily on test scores and did not take into account outside factors that affect student performance such as poverty, violence and homelessness.

The union also pushed for a policy to give laid-off teachers first dibs on open jobs anywhere in the district. The district said that would prevent principals from hiring the teachers they thought best qualified and most appropriate for the position. The tentative settlement proposed giving laid-off teachers first shot at schools that absorbed their former students.

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