It’s back to school again for Chicago students
It was back to school -- again -- for hundreds of thousands of Chicago Public Schools students this morning, including Carter and McClaran Shirley who were excited to get back with their friends.
Carter, a sixth grader at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, had just become accustomed to switching teachers for different subjects when the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike, suspending school for a week and a half. His sister, McClaran, is in seventh grade.
Their mom, Liz Shirley, said she kept her kids busy with math workbooks as her second-grader, Durham, practiced his handwriting.
Shirley, who works from home, was understanding at first but became frustrated when the CTU’s House of Delegates didn’t vote to send children back to school Monday.
“It was a little bit of a roller ride,” Shirley said. “I never picked a side. I understand the mayor’s and teachers’ challenges.”
Shirley said she didn’t understand why the CTU couldn’t meet again Monday, when there normally would have been school.
“I’ve hit the reset button emotionally,” Shirley said. “We’re back to routine.”
Amy Bryant accompanied her daughter Madison and son Carson to Bell Elementary.
“It feels like the first day of school again, because I was just nervous by waking up,” fourth-grader Madison said. “I’m really excited to see my teacher again.”
Bryant said her son Carson, Madison’s twin brother, has separation anxiety. “The anticipation of the first day is hard enough for my kids,” Bryant said.
At Tilton Elementary School on the West Side, school officials ushered dozens of energetic students through the front doors. “Welcome back, welcome back,” they said.
As she dropped off four of her grandchildren, Eardia Bassett, 67, said she was happy to have them back in school. “I’m glad that bus picked (my granddaughter) up this morning,” Bassett said as she sat in the passenger seat of a van next to her son-in-law. “I love her dearly, but give me a few hours.”
Bassett said she understood why the teachers went on strike, but thinks the issues should have been resolved during the summer. “These kids are already far behind,” she said.
Less than a mile away, children trickled into Hefferan Elementary.
“We get to do good stuff” in school, said Matthew Temble, 7, who walked to Hefferan with his uncle.
Marlena Jacobs, 25, said she had been relying on her mother to take care of her daughter, 4-year-old Mycaiya Curtis. “She’s just ready to get the kids out of the house,” Jacobs said of her mom. “She woke up at 4 a.m. today.”
Antionette Smith, 30, took her 7-year-old daughter to work while the strike dragged on.
Her daughter was anxious to get back to reading and math lessons. “It didn’t make any sense how long she was out,” she said. “I thank God we’re back. My baby needs the education.”
Delegates for the Chicago Teachers Union voted Tuesday to call off the strike, paving the way for CTU’s entire membership to approve a contract in the coming weeks that will secure them a double-digit salary increase over the next three years, including raises for cost of living while maintaining other increases for experience and advanced education.
Though the union did not achieve the 30 percent base raise it initially sought, CTU President Karen Lewis claimed several victories.
She argued that the union had successfully rejected Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attempts to institute merit pay, fought off more stringent requirements in a new teacher evaluation system and secured a recall policy for top-performing teachers who are laid off because of school closings.
“We feel very positive about moving forward,” Lewis said. “We feel grateful that we have a united union, and that when a union moves together, amazing things happen.”
For Emanuel, the vote draws to a close a standoff that had dragged into a second week and garnered national attention focused on not only the strike’s merits but the mayor’s role in it.
In the tentative agreement, Emanuel solidified his No. 1 reform objective of lengthening what had been one of the nation’s shortest school days and year.
The mayor also managed to secure a deal that gives teachers smaller raises than they had received under their previous five-year contract, maintains principals’ right to determine which teachers will be hired and institutes, for the first time, a teacher evaluation system set out by state law that takes into account student performance.
“This settlement is an honest compromise. It means returning our schools to their primary purpose: the education of our children,” Emanuel said.
“In this contract, we gave our children a 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.”
While the mayor calmly delivered his prepared remarks Tuesday night in the library of Walter Payton College Prep, he had shown his share of frustration through a yearlong fight with the union.
That included directing CPS and city attorneys on Monday to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction that would send teachers back to school. A Cook County judge had set a hearing for Wednesday, waiting for the outcome of the union’s vote.
Lawyers for CPS today withdrew their motion, left moot by the union vote.
Lewis and union delegates said the potential for a judge to control the fate of their strike had no factor in Tuesday’s decision.
The contract would give teachers base salary raises of 3 percent this year and 2 percent in each of the following two years. They could receive another 3 percent raise if both sides agree to a fourth year in the contract.
Those raises are in addition to other salary bumps for experience and pursuing a graduate degree that would push the overall average pay raise for teachers to 17.6 percent over four years, according to CPS. The district did not offer an average raise estimate for three years.
The contract will not be official until the union’s full membership votes to approve it in the coming weeks.
“There is no such thing as a contract that will make all of us happy, and we’re realistic about that,” Lewis said. “The other issue is, do we stay on strike forever until every little thing we want is capable of being gotten? We don’t think like that.”
As the two sides worked for months to hammer out a deal, CPS officials, led by Emanuel, and union leaders, led by Lewis, engaged in a public relations war to win support for their side.
With talks sputtering in late August, the CTU voted to authorize a strike date of Sept. 10, leading Emanuel to accuse teachers of failing Chicago’s students by choosing to walk out over contract demands.
Negotiations picked up in the days leading up to the strike date, but Lewis announced late Sept. 9 that there would be no school the next morning.
CPS and the union reached a breakthrough Friday as both sides agreed on a tentative framework for a new deal, but that was not enough. Teachers wanted more time — and details.
On Tuesday they decided they had had enough of both.
Tribune reporters By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Diane Rado, Bill Ruthhart, John Byrne, Joel Hood and Hal Dardick contributed.
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