News Local/State

Chicago Schools Still Out, but Progress in Talks


Chicago public school children missed their fourth day of school on Thursday since the start of the strike by Chicago public school teachers Monday.

But the leaders of the teachers union and Chicago Public Schools board of education say progress is being made.

Teachers union president Karen Lewis said Wednesday’s long day of negotiating ended with some real progress, especially around the thorny issue of teacher evaluation. She said the school district’s negotiating team is starting to hear teachers' concerns.

“We definitely have a lot of work to do, but it does seem like we are coming much closer together than we were, certainly this (Wednesday) morning,” Lewis said outside the Chicago Hilton and Towers on Michigan Avenue around 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

But Lewis isn’t ready to declare victory.

“No, no, no. Progress. Significant progress. It has not been checked off yet, plus you all have to remember we have a larger bargaining team that we have to talk to. We would like to get this done. Let’s hope for Friday,” Lewis said.

School board president David Vitale also acknowledged progress on the contentious issue of teacher evaluations and recall of laid off teachers.

“We had a very productive evening,” Vitale said. “Really good discussions and proposals on the most difficult issues that we face. I really think we shared a lot of back and forth and what really needs to get done to solve those difficult issues. I think we all go away hopeful that we can come together on this.”

But Lewis said the union remains concerned about the potential closure of schools.

“As soon as the ink is dry on this contract, the board plans to close 100 schools. The board seems to be wedded to proposals that will lead to thousands of experienced and dedicated teachers being replaced and having their careers destroyed,” Lewis said. “The closings of schools is something that we have been serious about for quite some time. Our concern is that it destroys communities.”

Vitale told reporters outside the Hilton last night there are no plans right now to close schools. But he said that going forward the district will have to deal with the problem of having more classroom seats--some 130,000 he said--than it needs.

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to be able to take 130,000 seats out, but we certainly have to put a dent in that and it’s a very complex process,” Vitale said. “There isn’t a plan on the table so there is no number.”

Vitale said that reducing excess capacity could help to pay for any salary increases for teachers under a new contract.

“Compensation is essentially 80 percent of budget … so anytime we are trying to compensate our people well, we have to find the money because we don’t know that revenues are going up,” Vitale said. “Yes, can we look at this and see if dealing with that excess capacity will yield some of the money that we need to run the system going forward, obviously.”

Despite progress on contract talks and happier, even some smiling faces on Wednesday night following contract talks, Chicago’s 350,000 public school children are still not in class today.

“Plan for something for your children tomorrow (Thursday). Let’s hope for Friday,” union president Lewis said. 

Board president Vitale essentially echoed that suggestion. “Obviously they are not going to be in school (Thursday) and we’ll hope for Friday,” he said