Last updated: September 17, 2012 7:33 pm

Chicago fails to end school strike

Chicago teachers stand behind police barricades©Reuters

The Chicago education authority failed in its effort to force public school teachers back into the classroom, when a local judge rejected its request to order them to immediately end their strike, now into its second week.

The confrontation means that President Barack Obama’s home town, and the home of his education secretary, remains bedevilled by the acrimonious dispute with the November 6 election approaching.

Mitt Romney, Mr Obama’s Republican challenger, has used the stand-off to rail against the power of unions, in an election that revolves around the economy.

Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and a former chief of staff to Mr Obama, and his administration on Monday requested a court injunction to have the public school strike, which began the previous Monday, declared illegal.

But Judge Peter Flynn of the Cook County Circuit Court declined to rule on the request, although he suggested he could consider it on Wednesday if the issue is not resolved by then, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Mr Emanuel, who has put his fundraising efforts for Mr Obama’s re-election campaign on hold to deal with the dispute, said the stoppage was illegal because it revolved around issues that were outside the parameters for a strike under state law.

The dispute centres on teacher evaluations and job security, specifically the rehiring of teachers who have been laid off.

“State law expressly prohibits the [Chicago Teachers Union] from striking over non-economic issues, such as lay-off and recall policies, teacher evaluations, class sizes and the length of the school day and year,” lawyers for Chicago Public Schools said in the lawsuit.

“The CTU’s repeated statements and recent advertising campaign have made clear that these are exactly the subjects over which the CTU is striking,” they said.

The union in the country’s third-largest school district will meet again on Tuesday, after the end of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.

Chicago teachers are some of the best paid in the US, earning an average salary of $76,000 a year. The tentative deal allows for annual pay increases but below the 4 per cent level that had been in an offer that Mr Emanuel scrapped last year.

The mayor wants the proportion of teacher evaluations that rest on student performance to rise to 35 per cent within four years, but the union says this does not allow for the impact that external factors, including poverty and violence, have on students.

The union also wanted teachers who had lost their jobs to be given priority for new vacancies, but the schools authority said that principals should be able to hire the most qualified teacher for the job.

After a week of action – with almost 30,000 teachers and support staff off the job and more than 350,000 students out of school – the school authority and the Chicago teachers’ union appeared to have reached a tentative deal on Sunday.

Union leaders recommended to their members that they suspend the strike and return to work, but union delegates decided to remain on strike, saying they were dissatisfied with some of the terms and needed more time to digest the complicated deal.

“There’s no trust for our members of the board,” Karen Lewis, president of the CTU, told reporters on Sunday night. “They’re not happy with the agreement. They’d like it to actually be a lot better.”

Brandon Johnson, a Westinghouse College social studies teacher, said teachers needed time to comment on the deal before the strike was called off.

“What they wanted to ensure was that all the members had an opportunity to weigh in on this framework,” Mr Johnson told the Chicago Tribune, calling the review a “democratic process”.

Additional reporting from agencies

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