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CPS chief offers grade school teachers raises for longer day, year

CPS Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard

CPS Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard

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Updated: November 3, 2011 6:23PM

City Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard vowed Tuesday to add 90 minutes a day and two weeks a year to the Chicago Public School calendar and offered an 11th-hour plan to get halfway to that goal this coming school year.

One day after the Chicago Teachers Union bailed out of talks over a rescinded 4 percent pay hike, Brizard said he would be willing to give elementary teachers a 2 percent raise worth $30 million if they agreed to work 90 extra minutes daily this coming school year. Classes start for most kids Sept. 6.

A longer school day is “so important to kids and so important to families that I am willing to trade off,” Brizard told the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday evening.

“I’ll go back to my team and order them to find the cuts to pay elementary teachers for the 90 minutes,” Brizard said. “Two percent pay [raises] to elementary school teachers for 90 minutes, September to June, would cost about $30 million. ... I would be willing to do that for this school year.”

Brizard’s comments came one day after CTU leaders contend CPS officials told them there was no number “between 0 and 4 percent” that they could offer teachers as a raise this year.

As a result, CTU officials said, they halted talks and met with the union’s House of Delegates Tuesday night to discuss whether teachers should swallow the pay freeze and start negotiating the next contract, or reopen the current contract that ends June 30 — a move that could open the door to a strike.

Brizard’s offer to elementary teachers came hours after he announced he wants the cash-strapped system to add 90 minutes to the school day and two more weeks to the school year in all CPS elementary and high schools starting in September 2012. Based on an analysis of the nation’s 10 largest school systems, Brizard said Chicago has “the shortest school day in the nation,” something his boss, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, campaigned on changing.

Brizard named a diverse task force of school reformers, parents, clergy, community groups and politicians to study how other schools and districts manage to offer more than CPS’s 308 minutes of instruction a day and 170 days of school a year.

Brizard charged them with figuring out how to fold in more of the basics — math, science, social studies and reading — but also more “enrichment” such as art, music, library and physical education — all subjects that have been reduced to weekly occurrences in many schools. The typical 20-minute lunch should become an “adequate midday lunch” and recess should be resurrected to let kids “recharge,” CPS officials said.

However, only hours after most of the task force members were announced, one of them — CTU President Karen Lewis — jumped ship. A CTU spokeswoman said Lewis did not want to be “part of a publicity stunt.”

“CPS has loaded its advisory council with charter school proponents, parochial school leaders, administration-connected clergy, politicians and union-busting advocacy groups,” CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin wrote in a news release. “This news has nothing to do with helping our children and everything to do with politicizing a really serious problem. Our children deserve better.”

Some questioned how CPS could possibly afford 90 more minutes a day and two more weeks of school a year. The system cancelled nearly $100 million in raises to school workers, is raising property taxes by $150 million, and is dipping into its reserve fund to stay in the black this coming school year, according to a proposed budget up for a school board vote Wednesday.

“Any citizen of Chicago needs to ask how it’s going to be paid for,” said Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education. “I don’t see how they can do it without raising class sizes to 45 kids..

“This is not a real plan. This is a politically motivated plan. It’s a plan to back the teachers union in a corner” and “make the teachers look like the bad guys for bursting the bubble.”

However, task force member Robin Steans of Advance Illinois, said there’s no question a longer CPS school day and year are worth exploring. She urged that all parties “give the process a chance to unfold.”

“We said we were going to send a man to the moon; we didn’t know what it was going to cost,” Steans said. “It’s important so you figure out how to do it.”

Brizard said he would like mostly teachers to work the extra 90 minutes a day, not outsider vendors or people without teaching certificates, which would be one way to shave costs. In the future, Brizard said, he’d rather focus on “differentiated pay” for teachers, meaning extra money for working in hard-to-staff schools or subjects, rather than extra money for more hours.

But for this coming school year, Brizard said, he is willing to order his financial team to “make the painful decisions” and find enough money for 2 percent raises for elementary teachers to get part of the plan off the ground by Sept. 6.

Said Brizard: “I’d like to implement this as soon as possible because every day we wait our kids are losing.’’

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