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CTU members vote to ratify contract

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis speaks at a news conference on Wednesday Sept. 28. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

Tentative voting results indicate that the 25,000 active members of the Chicago Teachers Union have ratified an agreement reached with Chicago’s school board, officials said Tuesday night.

About 72 percent of members counted as of Tuesday night voted “yes,” with about 28 percent opposed, according to a CTU statement. Less than 60 schools were still waiting to be counted as of 9:30 p.m., but “the number of votes outstanding will not significantly alter the result,” officials said, with a final count expected in “a day or two.”

“This has taken nearly two years to reach a fair contract settlement,” CTU President Karen Lewis said in the statement. “Now educators can focus their full energies on their classrooms as we continue to fight for equity throughout the district.”

The new contract means Chicago Public Schools will have to re-release its budget and get new approval next month from the Board of Education. CPS officials haven’s said how much the deal will cost.

“With this vote, families across Chicago now know that their children will remain in school to continue their remarkable academic gains, that teachers will get a raise and that the District’s finances will continue to improve,” CEO Forrest Claypool said in a CPS statement.

CPS said it will schedule public hearings on the revised budget ahead of the school board’s next meeting Dec. 7, when it is expected to vote on the agreement.

A simple majority of votes was required for the four-year agreement that maintains a 7 percent pension benefit and doles out raises in years three and four to become the teachers contract.

After holding a series of informational meetings last week, the union postponed the voting planned for Thursday and Friday, saying it wanted to give members time over the weekend to read printed copies of the full deal before deciding. It denied needing more time to sell the potential contract’s provisions.

Some rank and file members grumbled about the deal because its lack of guarantees for social workers and others serving children with special needs. Several took to Facebook to call for a “no” vote.

But in holding out the union secured at least $100 million more in benefits compared to a January offer its 40-member Big Bargaining Team shot down. The city has agreed to kick in about $88 million in surplus tax increment financing money.

CPS officials have refused to discuss the deal’s total price tag or cost to taxpayers. Sources have told the Chicago Sun-Times that it’s worth about $8.9 billion over four years.

If the full membership votes the agreement down after casting secret ballots at schools on Monday and Tuesday, the union could strike while negotiators from the union and Chicago Public Schools return to the bargaining table.

Union delegates had authorized a strike after talks had dragged on for well over a year, but then overwhelmingly voted to recommend the agreement that staved off the second teachers strike since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took over, just minutes before an Oct. 19 midnight strike deadline.

Four years ago, after the CTU did strike for seven school days, just over 79 percent of union members who voted on the deal reached with the school board approved it. Then it went before the Board of Education for a formal vote.