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Chicago schools to be closed at least 1 more day

Thu., Sept. 13, 2012, 12:58 p.m.

CHICAGO (AP) — The city’s public schools will stay closed for at least one more day, but leaders of the teachers union and the school district kept talking Thursday, with both sides saying they hoped to complete a deal soon to end the nearly weeklong strike.

“We are optimistic, but we are still hammering things out,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Word of the progress in negotiations came less than a day after the school board offered a proposal 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.

The union called a special delegates meeting for Friday afternoon, when the bargaining team is scheduled to give an update on contract talks.

Negotiations resumed Thursday with an air of optimism. Lewis said students could be back in class by Monday, a week after teachers walked out.

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

After Wednesday’s late-night bargaining session, school board President David Vitale was also more positive.

Roughly 25,000 teachers have been on the picket line in the nation’s third-largest school district.

The new optimism also was evident among teachers who marched Thursday along Michigan Avenue. They were joined by marching bands and protesters carrying balloons, pushing strollers and waving Chicago flags.

Among them was high school history teacher Anthony Smith, who wants the district to be fair and give all public schools the same resources so they can succeed. Among the negotiating points is a policy to hire back teachers who get laid off due to school closures.

“One school being closed down because they didn’t give it proper resources and proper attention is unfair,” said the 25-year classroom veteran.

Earlier, teachers picketed at their own schools, as they’ve done every day this week.

“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 on the city’s North Side. The negotiators “do not mean to have us be embroiled in this for longer than we have to.”

School districts nationwide have grappled with issues surrounding 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 say it’s unfair to use test scores to evaluate them, citing the many other factors beyond their control that affect student learning: 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.

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