By NBC News and wire services
CHICAGO -- Chicago Teachers Union delegates will meet on Tuesday afternoon to decide whether to end a strike that has closed the nation's third-largest school district for more than a week and prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel to seek a court order to stop it.
Some 800 union delegates representing the 29,000 teachers and support staff in Chicago Public Schools met on Sunday but continued the strike for two days so they could review details of a proposed new contract negotiated with Emanuel.
The meeting on Tuesday will be the second attempt by the union membership to try to get approval from delegates for the compromise deal, which must be approved by a simple majority to suspend the strike.
Union President Karen Lewis said no formal vote was taken at the Sunday meeting but a clear majority wanted to continue the strike.
On Monday, some union delegates were reporting strong support for the proposal. One delegate told NBCChicago.com than an informal survey he had taken of his members showed that "it looks like about 90 percent of them want to go back to work on Wednesday."
The outcome of the Tuesday meeting might depend not only on how union delegates feel about the tentative agreement, but also how they react to Emanuel's decision to go to court to stop the strike. A judge scheduled a hearing on the request for Wednesday morning.
CTU leader Karen Lewis talks about the strike; view more videos at: nbcchicago.com.
In a scathing statement released on Monday, the union called Emanuel a bully and said the legal move was "vindictive."
The union walked out on Sept. 10 for the first time in 25 years to protest Emanuel's demand for sweeping education reforms aimed at improving Chicago's struggling inner city schools. Some 350,000 public school students were out of school for a seventh day on Tuesday in the largest U.S. labor dispute in a year.
The strike has focused attention on a lively national debate over how to improve failing schools. Emanuel, backed by a powerful reform movement, believes poorly performing schools should be closed and reopened with new staff and principals, or converted to "charter" schools which often are non-union and run by private groups or philanthropists.
Teachers want more resources put into neighborhood public schools to help them succeed. Chicago teachers say many of their students live in poor and crime-ridden areas and this affects their learning.
President Barack Obama has been silent about the nasty dispute in his home city pitting his former top White House aide, Emanuel, against a major national labor union that also supports him. As the strike has dragged on there has been concern that the rift would damage union support for Obama and Democrats in the run-up to the November 6 presidential election.
During the first week of the strike most parents of public school students and Chicago voters supported the union, according to opinion polls.
Chicago Public School parent Melissa Lindberg said Emanuel is a Democrat in name only and compared him to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican who championed a law stripping public sector unions there of much of their power.
"I think the mayor is just plain wrong and at fault for the current strike," she wrote in an opinion column on Catalyst Chicago, a local education information service. "I think he set out to demonize the teachers, imply they were overpaid and under-performing."
Evaluations, tests and pay
Both sides have only released summaries of the proposed agreement. But outside observers said the tentative contract appears to be a win for the union's 25,000 teachers. While teachers in San Francisco haven't gotten an across-the-board raise in years, for example, Chicago teachers are in line for raises in each of the proposed deal's three years with provisions for a fourth. In Cleveland, teachers recently agreed to the same kind of evaluation system based in part on student performance that Chicago has offered.
The contract that union delegates will consider includes a compromise on Emanuel's key demand for teacher evaluations based on the results of their students on standardized tests of reading, math and science progress. Test results will be taken into consideration but not as much as Emanuel originally wanted.
Some union members in Chicago praised the school district's move on what percentage of test scores will be factored into teacher evaluations, down from the 45 percent proposed to the 30 percent set as the minimum by state law. It also includes an appeals process to contest evaluations. The new evaluations would be phased in over the length of the contract.
Many Chicago public school students perform poorly on the tests and the union fears that Emanuel will close scores of schools with a poor academic record once the strike is called off, leading to mass teacher layoffs.
The tentative contract calls for a 3 percent raise in its first year and 2 percent for two years after that, along with increases for experienced teachers. While many teachers are upset it did not restore a 4 percent pay raise Emanuel rescinded earlier this year, the contract if adopted would keep Chicago teachers among the highest-paid in the country. In Chicago, the starting salary is roughly $49,000 and average salary is around $76,000 a year.
The city also won some things from the union in the proposed settlement. Emanuel gets the longer school day he wanted and principals will have say over who gets hired at their schools, something the union fought. The district will be required to give some preference to teachers who are displaced and the school district will have to maintain a hiring list and make sure that at least half of hires are displaced teachers.
A decision by the teachers to reject the deal and continue the strike would throw the compromise deal into doubt. Emanuel's chief negotiator, School Board President David Vitale, made clear on Monday that the school district was not interested in reopening negotiations.
If the strike continues, attention would turn to the court hearing on Wednesday where Cook County Circuit Judge Peter Flynn will consider whether the strike is legal.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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