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Chicago teachers strike ends, but political fallout is just beginning

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The union called the negotiated deal – which hasn’t been finalized and needs to be approved by the union’s 26,000 members in coming weeks – a victory, contrasting the school board’s original position with the final agreement, and touting gains such as text books being available from Day 1 and $250 now reimbursable to each teacher for classroom supplies.

The contract wasn’t perfect, Ms. Lewis said. But she added: “Do we stay on strike forever until every little thing we want can be gotten?”

By all accounts, the union won some real concessions: Merit pay, which Emanuel had initially pushed for, was dropped. So-called “step and lane” salary increases, rewarding seniority and advanced coursework, were preserved. The portion of a teacher’s evaluation that will be based on student achievement was reduced from 40 percent to 30 percent. And the union got “recall rights” – of a sort – reinstated, with a promise from the district that it would seek to fill 50 percent of vacancies from a pool of laid-off tenured teachers who have strong performance evaluations.

Not insignificantly, at a time when the district is facing about a $1 billion budget deficit next year, teachers also won salary increases averaging about 16 percent over four years. (The contract would be for only three years, with an optional fourth year that the union can vote on.)

For his part, Emanuel called the contract “an honest compromise” where “we gave our children a seat at the table.”

The city, for its part, managed to hold firm on some of the big reforms that Emanuel had said were most important: lengthening one of the shortest school days and school years in the nation, implementing a meaningful evaluation system tied to student achievement, layoffs by performance rather than by seniority, and essentially preserving a principal's right to hire the teachers he or she wants. 

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