Chicago teacher strike on the mend

Associated Press
A large group of public school teachers marches past John Marshall Metropolitan High School on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012 in West Chicago. Teachers walked off the job Monday for the first time in 25 years over issues that include pay raises, classroom conditions, job security and teacher evaluations. (AP Photo/Sitthixay Ditthavong)

Jason Keyser and
Sophia Tareen
Associated Press

CHICAGO — The city’s public schools will stay closed for at least one more day, but leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union and the school district kept talking Thursday, with both sides saying they were drawing closer to a deal to end the nearly weeklong strike.

“We are optimistic, but we are still hammering things out,” said Karen Lewis, the union president.

Word of the progress in negotiations came less than a day after the school board offered to modify a system that would use student test scores to help evaluate teacher performance.

Under an old proposal, the union estimated that 6,000 teachers could lose their jobs within two years. An offer made late Wednesday included provisions that would have protected tenured teachers from dismissal in the first year of the evaluations. It also altered categories that teachers can be rated on and added an appeals process.

Classes were to be canceled for a fifth day today. And the union called a special delegates meeting for that afternoon, when the bargaining team is scheduled to give an update on contract talks.

Late Thursday, the school board said its latest proposal was in the hands of the union and that the union bargaining team was meeting separately to discuss it.

Board spokeswoman Becky Carroll expected a response later in the night. “We are at the brink of getting all the key issues addressed so that we can move forward with getting a deal and getting our kids back to school,” she said.

Carroll said the main sticking points are still the evaluation system and the union’s demands that laid-off teachers get top consideration for rehiring.

The district worries that could result in principals being forced to hire unsuited teachers. “We’ve made many modifications over the last several days to our proposal,” Carroll said. “We feel that we’re there. And at this point, it’s in the CTU’s hands to bring it to a close.”

Negotiations resumed Thursday with an air of optimism.

Lewis predicted that students could be back in class by Monday, a week after 25,000 teachers walked out.

“We’ve made progress in some areas but still we have a way to go,” she said . “Teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians remain hopeful but energized.”

Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the union, said a host of issues were still on the table, ranging from the evaluations to air conditioning in schools.

“There’s a sense of urgency today,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who stopped by the hotel where the negotiators were working Thursday and spoke to reporters.

Earlier in the week, Jackson said the two sides were talking past each other.