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Editorial: A good deal for teachers, schoolkids

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks SextSchool 6020 S. Langley during announcement thChicagoPublic Schools schools will start this fall with 7-hour school

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at Sexton School at 6020 S. Langley during the announcement that ChicagoPublic Schools schools will start this fall with a 7-hour school day at elementary schools and a 7.5-hour day in high schools. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 26, 2012 6:15AM

Tuesday was a tremendous day for Chicago schoolchildren and their teachers.

A deal struck between the teachers union and the school system will give students a desperately needed longer day without requiring teachers to work more hours. It also allows for a better day, not just a longer one, with the hiring of 477 new teachers, opening the door for a well-rounded curriculum sorely lacking in elementary schools now.

And, most important, the deal means Chicago will likely avoid a devastating teacher strike.

Opening day for one-third of Chicago public schools is Aug. 13. There’s nothing like a deadline to bring things into focus.

This was a major win for Chicago teachers, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the school system doing most of the bending. The victory was written across Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis’ face on Tuesday.

“Have you ever seen me smile like this?” Lewis joked at a news conference.

But the story doesn’t end here. The biggest mountain — the longer day — has been conquered, but several other issues must be resolved before a final deal is inked, including compensation, a broad recall policy for laid-off teachers and a new teacher evaluation system.

A large teacher raise, even a healthy one, is out of the question given CPS’ weak finances and the overly generous raises over the last five years. Plus, CPS is now on the hook for hiring nearly 500 teachers, at a cost of $40 million to $50 million.

The union also is pushing to hire laid-off teachers from closed schools before anyone new to CPS. Tuesday’s deal moves in that direction, requiring that first dibs for the 477 new jobs go to teachers laid off since 2010. We back that policy because it largely preserves principals’ hiring discretion. But a blanket recall policy that goes beyond that should be a nonstarter. A principal’s freedom to hire whomever she thinks is best is essential for a school’s success.

Emanuel made this longer day happen, and for that he deserves a huge thanks. That was goal No. 1 for a school system that has been handicapped by a too-short day for generations.

But try as he might, Emanuel didn’t get the longer day by bullying the teachers union. The union fought back, hard, forcing Emanuel and school leaders to listen. That buy-in, that earned respect, builds the morale that is essential to running a strong school system.

Emanuel and CPS insisted on a longer day, but the union steadfastly refused it without significantly more pay — and who could blame them? An independent fact-finder on Thursday chastised Emanuel and CPS for expecting teachers to work 20 percent more with barely a raise. On Tuesday, teachers gave up hope of a big raise that CPS couldn’t afford, and Chicago got its longer day.

Lewis, parents and this editorial page also repeatedly railed against “reform on the cheap,” a longer day that simply stretched out an elementary day heavy on reading and math and light on everything else. CPS shared the same goal and found a way to begin to make that happen with the hiring of 477 teachers, including art, music and physical education teachers. That’s on top of nearly 300 hires already announced.

Tuesday’s deal has all the hallmarks of a successful labor deal.

Teachers got a good deal.

And so did Chicago’s schoolchildren.

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