CHICAGO – The Chicago Teachers Union said Thursday that the city’s public schools will stay closed for at least one more day, but the union president said she was hopeful that both sides were close to completing a settlement to end the nearly weeklong strike.
“We are optimistic, but we are still hammering things out,” Karen Lewis said.
The union called a special delegates meeting for Friday afternoon, when the bargaining team is scheduled to give an update on contract talks.
“We’ve made progress in some areas, but still we have a way to go,” Lewis added. “Teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians remain hopeful but energized.”
Negotiations resumed Thursday with an air of optimism. Lewis said students could be back in class by Monday, a week after teachers walked out.
Roughly 25,000 teachers have been on the picket line in the nation’s third-largest school district. The most contentious issues on the table have included teacher evaluations that incorporate students’ standardized test scores and job security.
After contract talks went late into the night Wednesday, Lewis said the sides had definitely come closer together. School board President David Vitale was also more positive.
The optimism was evident on the picket lines, too.
“I know that we will have a good resolution to this, and I do believe it will be soon,” said Michelle Gunderson, an elementary school teacher picketing on the city’s North Side. The negotiators “do not mean to have us be embroiled in this for longer than we have to.”
The school board’s latest proposal scaled back penalties to teachers after the two sides argued over what percent of student performance should be weighed and how that should be used to judge job performance.
Under an old proposal, the union estimated that 6,000 teachers could lose their jobs within two years.
The latest offer included provisions for evaluations of tenured teachers that would not result in dismissal in the first year. It also altered categories that teachers can be rated on added an appeals process.
School districts nationwide have grappled with teacher assessments. The Obama administration has given states incentives to use student performance as a component of evaluations, though the issue has been most contentious in Chicago.
Teachers have said it’s unfair to use test scores to evaluate them, especially with other factors affecting student learning that they can’t control: poverty, hunger and the inability to speak fluent English, to name just a few.
Chicago’s walkout canceled class for approximately 350,000 students and has left parents scrambling to make other arrangements for young children. The district has kept some schools open on a limited basis, mostly to provide meals and supervision. More than 80 percent of Chicago Public Schools students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
The walkout is the first Chicago teachers strike in 25 years. A 1987 walkout lasted 19 days.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called the strike unnecessary and urged the union to continue negotiating with students in class.
Associated Press Writer Teresa Crawford contributed to this report.