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Chicago teachers vote to suspend strike, resume classes

Posted at 8:39 AM, Sep 19, 2012
and last updated 2012-09-19 08:39:49-04

From Ted Rowlands

CHICAGO (CNN) — Hundreds of thousands of Chicago schools students will return to class Wednesday after the teachers’ union voted to suspend its sometimes acrimonious strike that lasted about a week.

Teachers in the third-largest U.S. school system voted Tuesday to end their strike and resume classes.

About 800 union delegates representing the 29,000 teachers and support staff met for over two hours before they voted to suspend the strike.

Along with teachers and administrators, parents of the 350,000 students who had been out of school for the seven-day strike, were celebrating.

“I’m just glad that everyone got what they wanted, but I just wanted the children to be first,” Lisa Russell, a parent, told CNN affiliate WLS. “And I believe they are first.”

The contract agreement with the school system still needs to be ratified by the teachers and support staff who are members of the union. Karen Lewis, union president, said the rank and file will vote in “the next couple of weeks.”

Chicago Public Schools and the union struck a tentative bargain Friday afternoon. But on Sunday, union members decided to continue the walkout while they reviewed the proposal.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the new contract is “an honest compromise.”

Emanuel highlighted the fact that the new school day would be longer for many students. He said that a child who enters kindergarten under the terms of the new agreement would receive 2 1/2 more years of instruction by the time he graduated.

“In this contract we gave our children a seat at the table,” he said at a news conference.

The new deal will transform the school system to the benefit of teachers and students, said David Vitale, chairman of the school board. He acknowledged the negotiations weren’t easy.

Darren Tuggle, who has taught high school English for 13 years, said the strike wasn’t about money, but about classroom conditions. He said that teachers were frustrated with the board, whose members are appointed and most of whom came from business backgrounds.

Teachers walked off the job September 10, objecting to a longer school day, evaluations tied to student performance and job losses from school closings

This contract calls for longer school days for elementary and high school-age students, 10 more “instructional days” each school year and a single calendar for the entire school system, as opposed to the two schedules now in place, depending on the school.

The pay structure would change with a 3% pay increase for the first year of the contract, 2% for the second year and 2% for the third year. If a trigger extends the contract to four years, teachers will get a 3% pay increase. Union members would no longer be compensated for unused personal days, health insurance contribution rates would be frozen, and the “enhanced pension program” would be eliminated.

As is, the median base salary for teachers in the Chicago public schools in 2011 was $67,974, according to the system’s annual financial report.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said that the schools had improved measurably in the past year in test scores. The graduation rate was the highest and the dropout rate was the lowest in history.

“With this agreement now we have the foundation for transformation,” he said.

CNN’s Kyung Lah, Greg Botelho and Chris Welch contributed to this report.

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