District, Union Move On Deal For Longer School Day in Chicago

Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union have announced that they have reached a partial agreement in the often-contentious ongoing negotiations over the teachers' contracts. CTU has agreed to accept the lengthening of the school day, and in exchange, the district officials have agreed to hire more than 450 extra teachers with those laid off in the past two years getting preferential consideration for reemployment.

The negotiators have also laid down the blueprint for the new lengthened school days which, by eliminating morning prep-time and putting the teachers' lunch break back in the middle of the day, will have teachers working approximately the same number of hours in middle school. Those teaching in high school will only have to work for a slightly longer period of time every day.

Although both the district and the union expressed excitement over this middle ground, negations are by no means concluded and there remain a lot of contentious issues to be resolved before both sides reach a full agreement. Among them are the provisions dealing with healthcare, performance evaluation, student discipline, and salary. In announcing the breakthrough, CTU President Karen Lewis said that the compromise didn't put to bed the possibility of the teachers' strike sometime in the upcoming months. The union membership recently voted to authorize a strike against the district if the contract talks deadlocked, with over 98% of those voting approving the action.

Lewis would not say how this agreement impacts the union's salary demands. Citing the longer workday among other things, CTU had asked for nearly a 30 percent pay increase. CPS had offered about 2 percent.

CPS officials did not say how they planned to pay for the additional teachers, which they estimate to cost $40 to $50 million. The proposed CPS budget empties the reserves and makes program cuts to fill a $665 million deficit. With no reserves, the budget leaves little wiggle room.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel expressed certainty that the city would find a way to pay for the additional staff, saying that the consequences of not hiring the needed teachers would be too dire. The sentiment was echoed by the Board President David Vitale, who said that the district shouldn't delay in trying to locate the money for the new hires.

The longer school day was one of Emanuel's main education priorities and he had said on many occasions that he was unwilling to compromise with the union on this issue.

"A longer school day has been a goal and a topic of negotiations before," he said. "But each time students took a back seat."
Union leadership also saw the agreement as a win. Since the beginning of negotiations in November, CTU leaders said they wanted additional art, music and physical education teachers. They stressed that students shouldn't only have a longer school day, but also a "better school day."

With the additional teachers, each school should have at least 1.5 teachers providing art, music or other enrichment classes, Lewis said.

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