“We feel like we’re in a pretty good place, we’ve made a lot of progress today,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said as she left contract talks shortly before midnight Wednesday. “We spent a lot of time on evaluation. We still have a lot of work to do but it seems like we’re definitely coming much closer together than we were certainly this morning.”
Lewis said parents should not bank on classes Thursday but said, “Let’s hope for Friday.”
Chicago school board president David Vitale agreed significant progress had been made during talks Wednesday.
“We had really good discussions and proposals on the most difficult issues that we face,” Vitale said. “We’re hopeful we can actually come together around this.
“Unfortunately they’re not going to be back to school tomorrow, and we’ll hope for Friday.”
The progress was reported after Chicago Public Schools officials presented a revised contract proposal to the union on Tuesday and it was reviewed and discussed during talks Wednesday.
Under the proposal, teacher raises would be structured differently, as requested by the union; evaluations of tenured teachers during the first year could not result in dismissal; later evaluations could be appealed; and health insurance rates would hold steady if the union agreed to take part in a wellness program.
The new proposal also removes the district's ability to rescind raises because of an economic crisis. The board stripped teachers of a 4 percent raise last year, sparking union distrust of the mayor.
The issues of recall and how to evaluate teachers have been cited as crucial in recent days, while there has been little if any debate over a proposed salary boost that would average 16 percent over four years.
To pay for those raises, which could cost the cash-starved district $320 million over four years, other expenses would have to be cut. The money-saving tactics could include closing schools and shifting public school students to charters that mostly hire lower-paid, nonunion workers and get additional funding from philanthropic sources.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not specify how the district would pay for the raises, saying only that "they've worked through those issues" and "teachers are the most important resource."
He also said there is no specific target for the number of new charter schools that will be added to the district. "I don't have a fixed number," he said, noting that 19,000 students who applied for charters were turned away for lack of space.
In a proposal to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made earlier this year, the district proposed opening 60 charter schools over five years.