Chicago's first teachers' strike in a quarter of a century appears likely to end this weekend after a five-day lockout full of heated negotiations resulted in both sides reaching a "tentative agreement" that could put about 29,000 public school teachers and 350,000 students back in the classroom Monday.
Representatives from both the teachers' union and the city announced today that they had agreed on the framework of a deal and that they hoped to finalize it by Sunday, at which time the union's members would vote on it.
Robert Bloch, the attorney for the teacher's union, said negotiators had reached "the outlines of an agreement on the major issues."
"We are hopeful that we will have a complete agreement done by Sunday," he said.
That sentiment was echoed by David Vitale, the president of the Chicago Board of Education, who noted that "the framework" of a deal is now in place.
Vitale's message to parents was blunt: "They should be prepared to have their kids in school on Monday."
A source close to the negotiations told ABC News that the "important thing" about the "tentative agreement" is that "kids will be back in school on Monday."
"[The agreement] gives them the time in school and all the things we believe necessary for a good education," the source said.
Negotiators had worked into the early hours of Friday morning before breaking for the night; they then returned to the bargaining table today at 9 a.m.
Signs of a potential resolution had first emerged Thursday morning when the tone of top negotiators turned from angry bitterness to cautious optimism.
"We had what we think is pretty good movement, but of course the board always has to do a little bit of backsliding," Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, told reporters Thursday outside the Hilton on Michigan Ave., the site of the negotiations.
After a marathon bargaining session Thursday, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the chief education officer for Chicago Public Schools, told reporters Friday morning that it had been a "beneficial night" that had brought the two sides "closer."
"We are so close that I do believe on this sun-shiny day that it is very possible that we will have an agreement," Byrd-Bennett said Friday.
The two main sticking points in the talks had been the city's new proposed teacher evaluation system and the process for re-hiring laid off teachers.
The teachers' union has argued that the proposed evaluation system would emphasize students' standardized test scores too heavily and unfairly penalize teachers, while the district countered that the system already includes input from teachers and can be adjusted to change the weighting of the test scores.
In the past day that is just what the district did, reducing the emphasis on student testing and making the evaluation system more forgiving for teachers.
While a final agreement has yet to be reached, both sides now emphasize that a tentative one is in place, a final one appears imminent, and teachers and students will likely be able to return to the classroom on Monday.
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