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City agrees to hire more teachers to handle longer school day

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks SextSchool 6020 S. Langley during announcement thChicago schools will start year with Full School Day

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at Sexton School at 6020 S. Langley during the announcement that Chicago schools will start the year with a Full School Day at seven hours in elementary schools and 7.5 hours in High Schools. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 26, 2012 6:16AM

After months of acrimony culminating in a 90 percent strike authorization vote, the Chicago Teachers Union and the city have reached an agreement that could help avert a strike.

Both sides declared victory.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel got his longer school day — 7 hours for elementary schools and 7 1/2 hours for high schools.

And teachers maintained the status quo on the length of their workday.

How? Instead of requiring teachers to work a 20 percent longer day, the Chicago Public Schools have agreed to hire more teachers to fill the extra instruction time with such classes as art, music and physical education.

And those new hires will come from a pool of teachers laid off since 2010, giving the CTU its long sought-after recall of displaced members.

The burning question, of course, was how a cash-strapped school district struggling to close a nearly $700 million deficit can afford to hire more teachers — with teacher pay raises still yet to be addressed.

That hiring will cost the school system between $40 million and $50 million a year, according to School Board President David Vitale.

“Management will go to work and figure out where it’s going to come from,” Vitale said “This is eminent development and we will work on it over the course of the next month and we’ll come up with an answer but this is a priority.”

When asked, the mayor would not provide specifics.

“You can’t afford not to [do it]. You cannot relegate kids to the shortest school day and shortest year. This is the only way they’re going to have a chance at the future,” Emanuel said at a news conference with Vitale and Schools Chief Jean-Claude Brizard, held at a South Side school at about the same time CTU was holding its own news conference at its Merchandise Martheadquarters.

“CPS has finally backed off the unworkable, seven-hour, 40-minute teacher work day,” CTU President Karen Lewis trumpeted to applause from many teachers and members of the union’s bargaining committee.

“CPS thus reverses its publicly-announced policy that the CTU has consistently criticized as bad for both students and teachers ... and it has finally agreed to recall rights for teachers. This is movement in the right direction,” Lewis said.

The breakthrough is expected to pave the way for so-called “Track E” schools to start on Aug. 13 with the longer school day.

Under the interim agreement, teachers will continue to work roughly the same hours they do now.

Instructional time for elementary school teachers will be capped at the current 296 minutes per day. The additional 52 minutes of instructional time in students’ days will be taught by principal hires from a pool to include 477 recently displaced, tenured teachers. Lunch and recess time will bring students up to a seven-hour day.

The work day for high school teachers will increase by 14 minutes. Students will receive an additional 46 minutes of instruction four days a week, with their full day lasting 7 1/2 hours. On a fifth day, most students would be released 75 minutes early.

The agreement is the first sign in months that Chicago’s first school strike in 25 years might be avoided, despite many hurdles still to be cleared at the bargaining table.

And though the mayor would not rule out any chance of a strike, he said this interim agreement “assures that school will start on August 13.

“The parties are still at the table, they’re working.” Emanuel continued, and there’s a lot of other issues still to be resolved.”

Last week, both sides rejected a fact-finder’s report that not only recommends an 18.2 percent first-year pay hike the Chicago Public Schools can ill afford, but pinned the blame for the stalemate squarely on Emanuel. And the fact-finder demanded the mayor choose between fiscal reality and his signature push for a longer school day and school year.

Emanuel dismissed the fact-finder’s report as unaffordable and “not tethered to reality,” and stood firm behind his signature push for a longer school day and year. But Emanuel would not say how he planned to compensate teachers for the extra work he wanted them to perform, after signing off on a budget that authorized a 2 percent pay raise for teachers and drained every last penny of school reserves to pay for it.

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