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Union leader to Chicago teachers rally: In for the long haul

The Chicago Teachers Union and the city's public school district returned to the negotiating table Tuesday as thousands of teachers walked the picket lines for a second day in a strike that affected more than 350,000 students. NBC's Rehema Ellis reports.

Thousands of teachers rallied in central Chicago on Tuesday on the second day of a strike that has idled more than 350,000 students. Speaking to the crowd, the head of the Chicago Teachers Union suggested that the labor group was digging in on key issues, including teacher evaluations, dashing hopes for a deal that would get students back into the classroom soon.

"To say that the contract will be settled today is lunacy," union president Karen Lewis told the cheering crowd of teachers, whom she addressed as “brothers and sisters.”

Lewis told the teachers they were in this fight for the long haul, the Chicago Tribune reported.

"The assault on public education started here. It needs to end here," Lewis said, according to the report.

A statement issued by the union earlier Tuesday said that the two sides were not close to an agreement, calling that characterization "misinformation" from the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"The Chicago Teachers Union has 49 Articles in its contract (and) to date we have only signed off on six of them," said union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin. "The Chicago Public Schools has made proposals to change nearly every article. It is not accurate to say both sides are extremely close. This is misinformation on behalf of the board and Mayor Emanuel.  We have a considerable way to go. This is a fact they cannot deny."

Chicago school board President David Vitale wouldn't comment Tuesday ahead of the continued negotiations, but he insisted Monday night the two sides were close on the two major remaining issues — teacher evaluations and job security.

"We're ready to go to work," Vitale said earlier in the day. "We're disappointed that the urgency we feel doesn't seem to be shared on the other side." 

Lewis said teachers don't like the amount of standardized testing required to evaluate them and worry the evaluations could mean lost jobs. Another sticking point is a reform proposed by the school board to give principals the power to hire teachers.

Related reports:

Question at heart of Chicago strike: How do you measure teacher performance?
Chicago parents ask: How long will strike go on?
Report: Teacher shortage looms for California


In a letter sent Tuesday to Lewis on behalf of 30 Chicago school principals, A.N. Pritzker Elementary School Principal Dr. Joenile S. Albert-Reese wrote, "It's imperative that principals be given the autonomy they need in the hiring process.

"This autonomy is necessary to ensure that principals can hire the most qualified and best fit candidate for the position and our kids. Without this autonomy, principals may be forced to hire individuals whose skill set and value systems are not conducive to the school’s culture, mission and vision."

Weighing in from Washington, D.C. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, called for compromise in his old neighborhood.

As Chicago teachers enter day two of their massive strike, parents and students are struggling with unexpected days off. However, there is hope that the walk-out may end soon, with both the teachers union and the school board saying progress is being made in negotiations. NBC's Kevin Tibbles reports.

"I hope that the parties will come together to settle this quickly and get our kids back in the classroom," he said in a statement. "I'm confident that both sides have the best interests of the students at heart, and that they can collaborate at the bargaining table — as teachers have all over the country — to reach a solution that puts kids first."

The strike is not primarily about compensation. Chicago teachers make an average of $75,000 per year, according to the Chicago school system website. The deal CPS put on the table includes a 16 percent raise over four years.

Click here to see the Chicago Public School's offer to unionized teachers

In the Chicago press, there has been speculation that Mayor Emanuel may seek a court injunction to stop the strike, under a provision of the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act that makes it allowable if a teacher strike "is or has become a clear and present danger to the public." But how a judge would interpret the law is uncertain, according to a report in Catalyst Chicago, a website that reports on urban education.

"(Emanuel) doesn't have a legal standing," Lewis said. "We have a completely legal work stoppage. We have followed every rule!"

More than 26,000 teachers and support staff went on strike Monday morning after talks broke down Sunday night. The move left students in nearly 700 schools without classroom instruction.

Teachers at Chicago's charter schools, which serve about 45,000 students, are not striking and those schools remained open.

Meantime, parents were offered some options for placing their children who were displaced from school by the labor dispute.

WMAQ's Phil Rogers shares the latest on the teachers strike in Chicago. Emmeline Zhao then joins to discuss the key issues separating Chicago Public School and the Chicago Teachers Union.

The school district on Monday opened 144 schools for half days to provide a destination for kids whose parents were working, as well as breakfast and lunch to those who needed it. Dozens of other sites run by churches and community organizations were also available, but for the second day attendance was lower than anticipated. At a South Side YMCA, the site saw 35 kids Monday and Tuesday, fewer than expected.

On Tuesday, the school district announced it planned to extend hours at its the "Children First" sites beginning on Thursday if the strike continued, providing six hours of coverage a day instead of four, to better support working parents.

NBC Chicago live blog of the strike

Gathering Monday in front of the school district headquarters, some marchers expressed impatience, the Chicago Tribune reported earlier.

"This could have been solved on day negative five," complained Christopher Barker, a math teacher at George Manierre Elementary School, speaking to the Tribune. But he added, "I'll be here as long as I need to."

A fellow picketer Susan Hickey, a social worker for the district, was worried about students most in need of help.

"These children need these services," Hickey told the Tribune. "They need more quality services."

The only consolation, she said, was that the strike provided "a bit of a history lesson."

"We're telling them, 'This is how you stand for your rights,'" she said.

NBC Chicago contributed to this report.

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