By James B. Kelleher
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago public school teachers vote on Tuesday whether to ratify an agreement with Mayor Rahm Emanuel that ended a strike of more than a week in the nation's third-largest school district.
The Chicago Teachers Union has urged its 29,000 members to ratify the proposed contract, which calls for an average 17.6 percent pay raise for teachers over four years as well as some benefit improvements.
Kristine Mayle, the union's financial secretary, said voting would take place before and after classes on Tuesday at more than 600 schools and other facilities across the city. Results are expected late Wednesday night or Thursday morning, she said.
"We have couriers going out to pick up the materials and we'll be counting as fast as they bring them (votes) back to us," Mayle said.
Teachers are expected to ratify the deal, Mayle said. Last month, some 800 union delegates overwhelming endorsed the new contract, ending the strike that closed the district for seven school days.
A spokeswoman for Chicago Public Schools did not return a call and e-mail seeking comment.
The school system said the pay increases will cost it an extra $74 million a year. Chicago teachers make an average of about $76,000 annually, according to the school district.
The walkout, which canceled classes for 350,000 students, was the culmination of a dramatic, year-long showdown with Emanuel, who pushed for sweeping education reforms.
The strike was the first by Chicago teachers in 25 years and focused attention on a national debate over how to improve failing schools. Emanuel, backed by a powerful reform movement, believes poorly performing schools should be closed and reopened with new staff or converted to "charter" schools that often are non-union and run by private groups.
Teachers want more resources put into neighborhood public schools to help them succeed. Chicago teachers say many of their students live in poor and crime-ridden areas and this affects their learning. More than 80 percent of public school students qualify for free meals based on low family incomes.
Emanuel secured a new teacher evaluation system based in part on student standardized test scores, but he compromised on the weighting given to the test scores. He also got new flexibility for principals to hire teachers.
But teachers won some job security for colleagues laid off when schools are closed. Union teachers will be the first hired when the district adds teachers.
Last week, Moody's Investor Services cut its credit rating for the Chicago Board of Education, citing -- among other things -- the city's deal with the teachers, which the rating agency said would make it hard for the district to implement needed budget reductions.
Moody's said other factors contributed to the downgrade, including district plans to spend reserves to fund operations in fiscal 2013, an "impending spike" in pension payments and continued delays in getting state aid.
(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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