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Union: No School Friday, But Contract Talks Ongoing

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Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis (left) and other union officials were all smiles after ending another day of contract talks with Chicago Public Schools officials on the third day of the teachers' strike. Both sides called Wednesday's talks productive. (Credit: CBS)

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis (left) and other union officials were all smiles after ending another day of contract talks with Chicago Public Schools officials on the third day of the teachers’ strike. Both sides called Wednesday’s talks productive. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 09/13/12 – 10 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Classes were canceled for a fifth straight day at Chicago public schools as the Board of Education and the Chicago Teachers Union reportedly moved closer to a contract deal that would end a walkout by instructors.

Union officials said Thursday they were hopeful students could return to school on Monday. Negotiations with Chicago Public Schools representatives went late into Thursday evening.

“We are optimistic but we are still hammering things out. Schools will not open Friday. Talks are ongoing. We’ve made progress in some areas, but still we have a way to go. Teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians remain hopeful but energized,” CTU President Karen Lewis said in a written statement earlier Thursday.

The union has scheduled a House of Delegates meeting for 2 p.m. on Friday to update delegates on contract talks. The union entity authorized the strike last month if the CTU and CPS couldn’t come to terms on a new contract by Sept. 10.

CTU has also scheduled what it calls a “Wisconsin-style” labor rally for noon on Saturday at Union Park, at 1501 W. Randolph St. According to the union’s website, organizers expect the rally “will likely be our biggest mobilization to date.”

Both sides have been expressing hope that a deal can be reached to get kids back in school on Monday.

Negotiations resumed around 9:30 a.m. at the Chicago Hilton & Towers, 720 S. Michigan Ave. on Thursday. CBS 2′s Dana Kozlov reports there has been no word since then from either side on the progress of contract talks.

The union has been reviewing the latest CPS proposal for two days now. It includes retaining step wage increases — which are based on teacher experience — with larger increases for tenured teachers.

It also calls for an annual 2 percent cost-of-living increase for the four years of the deal, retaining current contractual class size language, and establishing a joint committee to craft a new teacher evaluation plan.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports

“We’re absolutely confident that given the progress that we made, if we stick to the issues; stay incredibly focused on recall, layoff, teacher evaluations, and all parties stay very focused; get the best use of our time, I would really, really say to you that there’s no way – unless we get, like, really nutsy – that we could not have an agreement and have our children in school where they belong, absolutely tomorrow,” Chicago School Board chief education adviser Barbara Byrd-Bennett said Thursday morning.

But Lewis insisted Monday was more likely.

“I think we have too much still on the table to get anything done,” Lewis said. “The House of Delegates cannot vote on one part of this, right? So the key is that we really do have to have a package – a comprehensive package – for our House to look at and decide.”

But Lewis says she too is expecting a deal will come soon.

“I’m a pretty optimistic person, so on a scale of 1 to 10, I’m like 9,” she said.

Does that mean children could be back in the classroom Monday?

“I’m praying, praying, praying. I’m on my knees for that. Please,” Lewis said. “Yes, I’m hoping for Monday. That would be good for us. That would be very good for our kids.”

But given what still needs to be accomplished, Lewis said while she would not say “no way” to classes resuming on Friday, she did call it “highly unlikely.”

While both sides agree that they made significant progress on the key issues which were teacher evaluations and recalling laid off teachers, Lewis says she wants more analysis of the district’s data and can’t promise negotiations will be done Friday.

The district softened its guidelines on the evaluation system, making a generous concession to the union.

Lewis did say CPS could decide to send kids back Friday even without a ratified contract, but she didn’t like that idea.

Meanwhile, as striking teachers walk the picket lines for a fourth day, they say they are prepared to keep up the fight.

Outside Hyde Park Career Academy, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., passing cars, CTA buses and police officers were giving the striking teachers a lift.

“That’s wonderful; I think that the community is understanding that we’re fighting for better schools,” said striking teacher Lisa Wyatt. “This is not just about standardized testing. We care about our children. We want them to have a quality education, and we want the schools to give them that quality education.”

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports

Wyatt says closing schools and creating more privately-operated charter schools would hurt places like Hyde Park Academy.

“Let’s call a spade a spade here,” Wyatt said. “If the kids are not hacking it, or if they have a fight, or if they do something that they don’t like in that school, they can just remove them and kick them out.”

If that happened, they would end up at schools such as Hyde Park, where the graduation rate is 98 percent and there are no resources to deal with under-performers.

CPS says so far during this strike, students have lost 28 hours of instruction time.

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