Chicago teachers overwhelmingly approve new contract

(MCT) — Chicago’s public school teachers overwhelmingly approved a contract agreement in a vote taken earlier this week.

The members of the Chicago Teachers Union voted 79.1 percent in favor of the contract, which union officials said tonight was the highest approval rating for a contract in the  CTU’s history.

Of the 20,765 valid ballots submitted, 16,428 were for the new agreement and 4,337 were against it.

“This shows overwhelming recognition by our members that this contract represents a victory for students, communities and our profession,” CTU President Karen Lewis said in a statement. “Our members are coming are coming out of this with an even greater appreciation for the continued fight for public education.  We thank our parents for standing with their children’s teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians.”

The contract agreement was reached after a seven-day strike last month that drew national attention. Chicago Teachers Union delegates voted on Sept. 18 to end the walkout and classes were back in session the next day

The vote on Tuesday was the first opportunity for rank-and-file teachers to vote on the merits of the contract agreement. Only a simple majority was needed to approve the tentative contract.

The tentative contract agreement gives teachers a base salary increase of 3 percent this year, followed by 2 percent raises each for the following two years. It also secures wage increases for experience and advanced education, sets new parameters tying teacher evaluations to student test scores and promises a recall policy for top-performing teachers who lose their jobs.

Lewis has said this was the best contract that could be attained at this time, given the district’s dire financial condition. The district faces a nearly $1 billion deficit next year with back pension payments coming due.

When the district passed this year’s budget this summer, they used up all cash reserves to pay for a budget shortfall, and CPS has yet to say how the cash-strapped public school system will pay for the new contract. Meanwhile, two bond rating services-Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings--have both downgraded CPS’ debt.

Chicago’s Board of Education is expected to vote on the agreement Oct. 24. Taking into account the new salary hikes and teacher benefits, CPS is also expected to amend its current budget.