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September 19, 2012

Chicago teachers vote to return to classroom

CHICAGO (AP) — Teachers agreed yesterday to return to the classroom after more than a week on the picket lines in Chicago, ending a combative stalemate with Mayor Rahm Emanuel over evaluations and job security, two issues at the heart of efforts to reform the nation’s public schools.

Union delegates voted overwhelmingly to suspend the strike after discussing a proposed contract settlement that had been on the table for days. Classes were to resume today.

Jubilant delegates poured out of a South Side union hall singing a song called “Solidarity Forever,” honking horns and yelling, “We’re going back.” Most were eager to get to work and proud of a walkout that yielded results.

“I’m very excited. I miss my students. I’m relieved because I think this contract was better than what they offered,” said America Olmedo, who teaches fourth- and fifth-grade bilingual classes. “They tried to take everything away.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the settlement “an honest compromise” that “means a new day and a new direction for the Chicago public schools.”

He said the talks achieved goals that had eluded the district for more than a decade, including an extension of the school day, which had been among the nation’s shortest, and a new teacher evaluation system.

“In past negotiations, taxpayers paid more, but our kids got less. This time, our taxpayers are paying less, and our kids are getting more,” the mayor said, referring to provisions in the deal that he says will cut costs.

Union leaders pointed to concessions by the city on how closely teacher evaluations would be tied to student test scores and to better opportunities for teachers to retain their jobs if schools are closed by budget cuts.

The walkout, the first in Chicago in 25 years, shut down the nation’s third-largest school district just days after 350,000 students had returned from summer vacation. Tens of thousands of parents were forced to find alternatives for idle children, including many whose neighborhoods have been wracked by gang violence in recent months.

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