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The teachers Union in Chicago votes later today for the second time on whether to and a strike that has kept 350,000 students and their parents in limbo. On Sunday, the union's House of Delegates voted to continue the weeklong strike until they have more time to read the outline on of a tentative agreement. That vote was a setback for union President Karen Lewis and her bargaining team.
NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports that with the vote pending, some teachers still don't know what's in that agreement.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: Robert Resner, an elementary school teacher at Orozco Academy showed up at Strike Headquarters at 6 A.M. this morning to pick up some pamphlets and the latest four-page summary of the tentative contract the Chicago teachers union is reviewing. But he still wasn't sure what he's supposed to reject or endorse.
ROBERT RESNER: We got our information late Monday night on what was in the contract and it was only a small part, 'cause the contract is still not being written.
SANCHEZ: How can you sign something if you haven't seen it, says Resner? His colleague, Melissa Sears, says she just wants to get back to work.
MELISSA SEARS: What I've seen in the contract is good enough for me. Is it perfect? No is it ever going to be? No, but I feel like we have to, at this point, sort of appreciate what we've gotten and hope for the best.
SANCHEZ: Sears says her confidence in union President Karen Lewis though is not as strong as it once was. And Sears wonders was Lewis tough enough in negotiating a fair contract. And what will she do if the union's 800 voting delegates turn down the latest proposal and remain on strike?
SEARS: All I can do is just trust that she's looking out for our best interests.
SANCHEZ: Until now, few teachers have suggested that Lewis has not done enough. But as public support for the strike slowly fades, some teachers wonder whether she's the best person to take on a much tougher task once the strike is settled; turning, what they call, a politically polarized school system, dominated by politicians and corporate interests into a system that respects teachers.
Brooke Pippet Thompson, a music teacher at Helen C. Pierce Elementary, says Lewis is absolutely the right person to do that.
BROOKE PIPPET THOMPSON: Can't tell you how many times people have said to me, Well, she's not the best spokesman for you. I disagree. She is a teacher. She knows what she's talking about. Until we start listening to those who know what they're talking about in the classroom; people who've been in the classroom who know children, who understand cognitive development, and also the pressures that poverty plays in that. I trust her and I believe what she says when she says something.
SANCHEZ: Lewis, after all, has secured a 17 percent pay raise for teachers over four years. School officials have also agreed not to fire teachers after one year under a new, tougher evaluation policy that would be phased in over time. Merit pay was taken off the table. And more teachers would be hired under a plan to extend the school day - all important victories for the union.
But with Chicago's schools under mayoral control, teachers just don't trust Mayor Rahm Emanuel to keep his word. As soon as the ink dries, teachers say he'll lay off thousands of teachers, close a hundred schools, and turn many of them into privately-run, publically-funded charter schools.
What will Lewis and the union do then?
KAREN LEWIS: Ultimately the decision whether to suspend the strike will be taken..
SANCHEZ: When Lewis came on WBEZ Public Radio this morning to talk about the strike, teachers at Pierce Elementary hovered around an iPhone listening to the broadcast and Lewis' words carefully.
LEWIS: I think that people that really want to go back to work will be able to make the argument..
SANCHEZ: Bridget Fabianski says no matter how the union delegates vote this afternoon, its time for someone other than Lewis to speak for teachers.
BRIDGET FABIANSKI: She seems confrontational. Any parent that I've talked to says she's confrontational. But..
SANCHEZ: That's her nature.
FABIANSKI: Maybe that's her nature and she's the one who's going to get it done. Maybe it's a confrontational...
SANCHEZ: So this next phase might call for (unintelligible).
FABIANSKI: For a different spokesperson, for a different person to stand up and to represent us.
SANCHEZ: As union delegates gather to vote, Karen Lewis will once again be in the hot seat and have a chance to show whether she's the right leader at the right time.
Claudio Sanchez, NPR News, Chicago.
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