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Strike contingency plan could cost $25 million

Members Chicago Teacher's Unipicketed outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters 125 S. Clark St. Wednesday morning. CTU president Karen Lewis held

Members of the Chicago Teacher's Union picketed outside Chicago Public Schools headquarters, 125 S. Clark St. Wednesday morning. CTU president Karen Lewis held a news conference. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 23, 2012 8:27AM

Chicago Teachers Union officials Wednesday charged that nine months of contract negotiations have only produced “very limited

progress’’ and so far, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s longer school day is not a better school day.

An 11th-hour longer school day that began in the one third of the system’s schools last week with year-round calendars has been implemented “haphazardly” and “ridiculously,’’ CTU President Karen Lewis said Wednesday at a news conference.

“It is not a better school day yet and if we just leave it up to these guys, it will never be a better school day,’’ Lewis charged shortly before CPS officials gathered for the Chicago School Board’s monthly meeting.

Chicago Public School CEO Jean-Claude Brizard disagreed with Lewis on the longer school day.

“Our focus is on our kids, and we’re putting them first,” Brizard said in a statement. “School is off to a great start this year and both teachers and students are enthusiastic to be back. The full school day is working, and now is not the time to turn our backs on our kids just as they are making progress in the classroom.”

Board members are expected to vote on a budget that has been denounced by civic and advocacy groups for, among other things, draining the system’s reserve funds to help plug a $665 million deficit.

During Wednesday’s board meeting, Chicago School Board members were asked to authorize spending up to $25 million on a contingency plan in the event the CTU does go on strike. The plan would be implemented only upon the receipt of a 10-day notice to strike — something CTU officials would have to issue by Saturday if they want to preserve the right to strike on Sept. 4, the first day of classes for most of the system.

The contingency proposal authorizes the nation’s third-largest school system to begin hiring vendors to provide “non-instructional services” and to start arranging access to shelter and meals for students left adrift by a strike.

Meanwhile, CTU President Lewis and School Board President David Vitale seemed to share an olive-leaf moment during the public participation section of Wednesday’s board meeting. Lewis warned board members that “we’re still pretty far apart’’ at the negotiating table.

But with her vitriol turned down, she added that, “We’d like to get a contract settled. We know there will be one. It’s just a question of when. We’re hoping for movement in the next few days.’’

School Board President David Vitale sounded receptive, agreeing that, “We’d like to get this solved and we’ll work with you.’’

Lewis said earlier in the day she didn’t expect the union to issue a 10-day intent to strike notice on Wednesday, but union officials are expected to seek input from delegates during a meeting late Wednesday afternoon at Lane Technical High School on the Northwest Side.

Teachers don’t want a strike, “but I say this. If it’s necessary to do so, we will,’’ Lewis told reporters Wednesday morning outside Chicago Board of Education headquarters, before the board meeting.

She spoke as about 50 CTU members picketed behind her and later chanted “They say cutback. We say fight back.’’

Chicago Public School officials have insisted that progress has been made at the bargaining table.

Lewis, though, charged that with the extra instructional minutes teachers must teach during the longer day, the 10 days added on to the school year, the “itty bitty’’ 2 percent raise being offered “is not acceptable.’’

The union also is balking at the board’s insistence on freezing additional increases for experience and extra credentials, often called “steps and lanes.” The union wants extra increases, on top of a raise, that recognize “experience and educational attainment,’’ Lewis said.

The union is not “stalling,’’ Lewis said. Instead, “we’ve given them proposal after proposal’’ that’s been ignored. She said the CTU does not have a “drop dead’’ deadline by which they want the contract resolved and warned “our members have walked picket lines in December, so it’s not about when.’’

“We’re going to reach an agreement. We’ll have a contract,’’ Lewis said. It’s up to CPS on whether the two sides reach it the “easy’’ way or the “hard” way, she said.

The deal that allows students the longer school day promised by Emanuel during his mayoral campaign while not substantially increasing the teacher’s day has so far has been “a slogan’’ more than a “better day,’’ said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey.

Some librarians have not had time to stack and order books for children because they have lost their preparation time under the deal, Sharkey said. Counselors are being recruited to use their prep time to supervise lunch or recess.

One school is spending the first hour of the day on “club time,’’ without teacher supervision, Sharkey said. In another, mandatory recess for third graders was being held in classrooms, he said.

So far, Sharkey said, “it just looks like a longer day, not a better day to us.”

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