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Brizard ‘optimistic’ on deal with teachers ‘before Labor Day’

JaylSmith 7 poses for picture with Mayor Rahm Emanuel during visit  Beidler Elementary School 3151 W. Walnut for first

Jayla Smith 7 poses for a picture with Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a visit to Beidler Elementary School 3151 W. Walnut, for first day of classes. Monday, August 13, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun Times

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Updated: September 15, 2012 6:08AM

One-third of Chicago’s public schools kicked off Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s long-awaited longer school day and year Monday, with schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard saying he hoped a new teacher contract would be resolved before classes begin Sept. 4 for the rest of the system.

Negotiators are making “good progress,” Brizard said after ringing the school bell at Lindblom Math and Science Academy High, one of 243 year-round schools to start classes Monday.

“I’m optimistic that we’re going to come to a resolution soon, hopefully before Labor Day.”

“I don’t have that kind of crystal ball,’’ countered Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who urged members last week to continue to prepare for a September walkout. “We just have a lot of work to do.’’

One “good sign,’’ Brizard said, was the 11th-hour deal forged with the CTU that allows elementary students to enjoy a seven-hour day, up from last year’s 5 3/4-hour one, without substantially increasing the teacher work day. Roughly 500 elementary teaching positions were opened as part of the interim agreement, with first dibs going to teachers who have been laid off in the last three years.

Only about 70 of those positions remained unfilled Monday in year-round schools, Brizard said. He called the number “minimal’’ considering the size of the system. Plus, year-round principals had only one week to fill their new slots.

At Beidler Elementary, where Emanuel rang the school bell Monday to herald in the longer day he campaigned on, Principal Charles Anderson said he will teach a new computer technology class himself while he continues to interview hiring pool candidates. Six applied, but only three had adequate credentials, and “I was picky,’’ Anderson said.

Principals must choose a hiring pool candidate if at least three qualified pool candidates apply, according to the interim deal. If principals hire laid-off teachers who were tenured in their last CPS job and keep them past mid-year, their tenure is restored, meaning they become much more difficult to fire.

Year-round Parkman School also was still looking to fill a new technology slot Monday, but was only allotted a half-position under the deal, making landing a candidate even more difficult. Principal Sonja James said she had partnered with another school that also needed a half-time technology teacher to try to fill her slot.

As he has for weeks, Emanuel again declined to explain Monday where he will find the $40 million to $50 million needed to hire the extra teachers to staff the longer school day. He would say only that the system would find the money to protect his signature education initiative when it hammers out the rest of the teacher contract.

“We’re working through the issues,” the mayor said in an interview after his appearance at Beidler. “There are other issues that remain that have an ability for us to achieve the full school year for the kids.”

Brizard, meanwhile, predicted that a reduction in “bureaucracy’’ and some program cuts would probably be used to raise the money.

Asked if CPS was considering cancelling a tentatively budgeted 2 percent teacher pay raise — amounting to $50 million — to pay for the $40 million to $50 million longer-day deal, Brizard said “No.’’ The deal does not prevent the CTU from negotiating for a pay hike, he said.

Last month, the Board of Education put off until later this month a vote on a $5.7 billion budget that tentatively earmarked 2 percent pay raises for teachers, central office staff and other unions — and drained all remaining reserves to do so.

The longer day restores recess for all elementary kids — something that had been missing in most CPS elementary schools for decades. And, the mayor noted Monday, it allows schools to tailor extra instructional minutes to fit their own specific needs.

At Beidler, at 3151 W. Walnut, that meant extra reading, writing and computer technology components as well as special counseling to help older kids transition to high school.

Emanuel high-fived a long line of Beidler students as they walked past him to begin their longer day Monday — and their longer school year. Ten extra days were tacked on to the student calendar, bringing the number of instructional days to 180.

“For too long, we as citizens denied our teachers and our children the kind of day and year they needed,’’ Emanuel told an opening day gathering at Beidler.

However, the mayor cautioned, “Just because you have more time doesn’t take you off the hook. You gotta use that time to make it quality time.’’

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