UPDATED: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 5:40pm
Chicago, illinois — Hundreds of thousands of Chicago schoolchildren will return to class Wednesday after the teachers union voted to suspend its strike.
About 800 union officers and delegates met for just over two hours before there was an overwhelming voice vote to suspend the walkout, union leaders said Tuesday.
The contract agreement with the school system still needs to be ratified by the more than 29,000 teachers and support staff who are members of the union. Karen Lewis, union president, said the rank and file will vote in "the next couple of weeks."
Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest U.S. school system, and the union struck a tentative bargain Friday afternoon. But on Sunday, union members decided to continue the walkout while they reviewed the proposal.
"Well, I think it is the best deal we could get at this moment in time," Lewis said before the meeting. Afterwards, she said there was no such thing as a perfect contract, and that not very member of the union would be pleased.
That included people like Benita Whitfield Shanklin, a social worker who voted no on Tuesday.
"I have two different feelings at the same time -- happy that we are so solid and we're a tight working unit," she said, "but at the same time I'm sad that we weren't able to make any progress on class sizes and the school closures. We have a lot of parents that were supporting us, and I feel like we let them down."
But parents and city officials will be happy to send about 350,000 children back to class after they missed seven school days. It was not immediately clear if the school calendar would be revised.
"All of our members are glad to be back with their kids," Lewis said. "It's a hard decision for some to go out (on strike)."
The school board posted a notice on its website: "Chicago Teachers Union leadership has chosen to end the strike. All Chicago Public Schools will re-open on Wednesday, September 19, and all CPS students are expected to be back in the classroom."
Q&A: What's behind the Chicago teachers' strike?
Teachers walked off the job September 10, objecting to a longer school day, evaluations tied to student performance and job losses from school closings. Parents have juggled their families' schedules for more than a week to make sure their children are attended to while schools are closed.
This contract calls for longer school days for elementary and high school-age students, 10 more "instructional days" each school year and a single calendar for the entire school system, as opposed to the two schedules now in place, depending on the school.
The pay structure would change with a 3% pay increase for the first year of the contract, 2% for the second year and 2% for the third year. If a trigger extends the contract to four years, teachers will get a 3% pay increase. Union members would no longer be compensated for unused personal days, health insurance contribution rates would be frozen, and the "enhanced pension program" would be eliminated.
As is, the median base salary for teachers in the Chicago public schools in 2011 was $67,974, according to the system's annual financial report.