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School Board passes property tax increase, CPS pushes longer day

NiDennis 8 joins clergy parents demanding school officials unions come up with longer school day. | John H. White~Sun-Times.

Nia Dennis, 8, joins clergy and parents demanding school officials and unions come up with a longer school day. | John H. White~Sun-Times.

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Updated: November 4, 2011 9:39AM

Chicago School Board members Wednesday unanimously approved a budget packing a $150 million property tax increase as school officials offered elementary teachers raises totaling $15 million to work a longer day.

Meanwhile, parents, clergy and others turned up the heat on all parties involved to find a way to achieve a longer school day and year.

Scores of protestors lined the sidewalk outside the Board of Education, wearing stickers reading “90 more minutes now.’’

“We can no longer stand for the under-education and the mis-education of our children,’’ Rev. David Popel, pastor of Brotherly Love Baptist Church in Lawndale, told the throng. “I’m asking our mayor, our [Schools] CEO to find a way to make sure our children are properly educated.’’

CPS officials on Wednesday e-mailed Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis an offer of 2 percent raises starting in January for elementary teachers if they agreed to work 90 more minutes a day.

The offer was a scale-back of one Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard shared Tuesday evening with the Chicago Sun-Times and Channel 11’s “Chicago Tonight” that would have cost twice as much by adding the 90 minutes in September.

Wednesday’s permutation means the possibility of a longer school day when classes resume Sept. 6 for most kids is now off the table. Explained Brizard: “It makes more sense to plan this out.’’

However, by Wednesday morning, CTU members had already contacted Lewis to dump cold water on the plan they heard about in the media. Teachers who did the math figured out they would be paid the equivalent of $3 an hour for the extra time, she said.

“They are not happy,’’ Lewis said.

Lewis said it “would have been nice’’ if Brizard had offered the plan while both sides were still formally talking instead of first unveiling it in the media. Instead, talks over ways to fund a 4 percent raise that CPS says it can’t afford stalled on Monday.

Wednesday’s e-mailed offer was a CPS attempt to resurrect those talks as well as to broaden them to include a longer school day. It came one day after Brizard announced the members of a task force charged with finding a way to add 90 minutes to the school day and two weeks to the school year by next fall.

Although the latest $15 million offer moves Brizard one step closer to fulfilling Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s promised longer school day and year, one veteran union delegate doubted it would fly with union members because it would result in elementary teachers being paid more than high school ones. Some 15,000 teachers, or nearly 70 percent of the teaching force, who teach kindergarten through eighth grade would be affected, CPS officials say.

Plus, the delegate said, Brizard’s contention that he would find a way to come up with the money, even though it’s not in the budget, “negates his whole argument that they are in such dire [financial] straits.’’

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the offer had been discussed internally until Brizard, “in the moment,’’ popped out with it on Channel 11. He contacted Lewis afterwards, saying to “watch the rerun and let’s talk in the morning,’’ Carroll said.

“Now it’s up to them to take it back to their members and consider if they want to accept the offer,’’ Carroll said. “If they do we are ready to move forward with identifying funds to pay for a 2 percent raise.’’

Meanwhile Wednesday, school board members without comment unanimously approved a nearly $6 billion budget patched together with the first property tax hike to the maximum in four years, with $240 million in reserve funds, with the cancellation of 4 percent raises to seven unions worth nearly $100 million, and with some $100 million in promised but not-yet-identified administrative cuts.

The budget slashes funding for more than 500 teachers and other school workers — many of them focused on the neediest kids — although officials say some schools may have the discretionary money to hire them back.

The $150 million property tax increase will raise the bill of the owner of an average $250,000 home by $84, or 2.4 percent, CPS officials say.

Also Wednesday, board members approved the hiring of Oliver Sicat to the new $162,500-a year position of Portfolio Officer, charged with developing a long-term strategy for facilities planning. Sicat is the director and a founder of Noble Street Charter School’s UIC College Prep campus. Also, Jamiko Rose, executive director of the community group Organization of the North East, was hired to the new $152,000 position of Chief Family and Community Engagement Officer.

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