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Brizard Offers Elementary Teachers 2% Raises For Longer School Day

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UPDATED 08/24/11 9:12 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard has offered to give elementary school teachers a 2 percent raise this year if the district implemented a longer school day this year rather than waiting.

“We hope to come to consensus to make this happen sooner, rather than later, but understand that this is a priority for us,” Brizard said Wednesday.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

But, as CBS 2′s Dana Kozlov reports, the way Brizard made his pitch has some teachers – and the head of the union – hopping mad. He first pitched the proposal on WTTW-TV’s “Chicago Tonight” program on Tuesday evening.

“I’d like to make this happen as quickly as possible,” he said on Tuesday.

The problem is, the Chicago Teachers Union didn’t know anything about it before Brizard went public with the proposal on TV.

“It would have been nice if we’d had that proposal while we were actually in negotiations. I could have brought it to the House of Delegates meeting yesterday, but for some reason they decided to do it on Channel 11,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said on Wednesday.

The offer came Tuesday night, ahead of Wednesday’s vote on the CPS budget for next year. Late Wednesday afternoon, the board approved a 2.4 percent property tax hike, along with $400 million in cuts, in order to close a $712 million budget gap.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, Lewis said teachers weren’t happy about Brizard announcing the offer of a 2 percent raise on TV before presenting it to the union and she’s not ready to agree to it without going to the negotiating table first.

That means, for parents, it’s unlikely there will be a longer school day to start the 2011-2012 school year.

“Probably not, not in 13 days,” Lewis said.

As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, while discussing a longer school day at a public radio forum Wednesday night, Mayor Rahm Emanuel made it clear he’s losing patience with the teachers who are fighting it.

“We’ve proposed a 2% additional pay raise for another 90 minutes just for the kindergarten to 8th grade unit,” Emanuel said. “So nobody’s asking anybody to not work without some compensation.”

Lewis said the union will talk about the offer, but her members aren’t happy with the proposal or the CPS budget.

“My biggest problem with the budget is that there’s no work towards increasing revenue,” Lewis said.

Lewis suggested eliminating corporate tax breaks. School officials admitted they cannot keep raising property taxes, as they have proposed doing for the upcoming school year.

What isn’t clear is if Brizard plans on implementing the longer grade school day without talking to teachers first.

“If they want to set up for a fight, then this is a good first step to take, because clearly there is a fight brewing,” said Julie Woestehoff of Parents United For Responsible Education.

It’s a fight that started earlier this summer, when blizzard and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced teachers would not be getting their contractually promised 4 percent raise.

In June, the School Board voted not to give teachers scheduled raises in the face of a budget deficit of more than $700 million.

The Chicago Teachers Union has warned previously that a strike could be a consequence of the vote to cancel the pay raise.

“It very well could (lead to a strike), but the operative word here is ‘could.’ That would be the will of the membership,” Lewis said in June.

Earlier this week, the union had asked for a 2 percent raise this year, and then another 2 percent increase in January. CPS officials rejected that offer.

If Brizard does take a hard line on a longer school day, Woestehoff said a strike might happen.

However, Lewis said she didn’t want to talk about the possibility of a teachers strike.

Woestehoff said there’s a whole other concern, too. Regardless of whether elementary teachers took Brizard’s offer of a 2 percent raise, she believes there’s not enough money in the CPS budget right now to extend the grade school day.

It’s something she and the union believe needs to be discussed and worked out before it goes into effect.

The mayor has been campaigning for a longer school day since entering the race for mayor. And at Wednesday night’s event sponsored by WBEZ at the Chicago Historical Society, he had a receptive audience.

“If everybody thinks having high school kids out at 2:15 — when 75% of juvenile crime occurs between the hours of 3 and 6 — is not only good educational, but good public policy, I say it is wrong for the city, it’s wrong for our children and we can do better,” Emanuel said.

It’s clear the mayor wants the the longer school day this year, just as he wants a casino, now, hinting he’d be ready to go as soon as the Governor signs the gambling expansion bill approved by lawmakers, but being held up in the General Assembly for fear of a veto.

“I’m gonna actually ask experts where is the best place to do this. You have the opportunity to set it up under the legislation because you pick a place, or set some temporary places,” Emanuel said.

He reiterated the money would be used for infrastructure projects, unlike the parking meter revenue being used to pay bills. And he reiterated his opposition to privatizing city assets, like water service, while at the same time vowing to stop giving it away.

“It’s not like I want to do this, but we lose somewhere – depending on how you look at it – between $17 million to $21 million … in revenue every year, helping the non-profit world with free water,” Emanuel said. “And that includes everything from hospitals, major cultural institutions to others.

Some of those same institutions – some of them billion dollar businesses – also don’t pay property taxes, which are the primary funding source for schools.

A group of parents who gathered Wednesday outside CPS Headquarters at 125 S. Clark St. said they wholeheartedly support the lengthening of the school day.

Holding signs in a demonstration led by the Rev. Roosevelt Watkins of Bethlehem Star Church, the group chanted, “What do we want? Ninety more minutes! When do we want it? Now!”

“Children need more structure in school. They need more discipline, and they just need these core values and this curriculum to help make them a well-rounded person. I think getting out of school at 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon is way too early,” said CPS parent Angela Williams.

“Students will have the opportunity where they can improve in their reading, math, science, things that would allow them to be able to compete when they go to college, and they’ll do much better,” Watkins said.

“The way the street is now, it’s more dangerous to be outside, so more school hours – this is a good thing, so they can stay in there and get more learning, so they’re prepared for college,” said recent CPS graduate Tevin Taylor.

But the Teachers Union is opposed to the idea, and believes there are better ways to educate children and raise test scores.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

Lewis has said the object is to work smarter, not work longer. She has said the system needs more teachers, teaching more subjects, not the same teachers just doing the same thing for longer hours.

She has also expressed concern that a longer school day could be detrimental to some students.

“I’ve had some students come to me and say – high school students say – ‘I have a job after school. Neither one of my parents are working right now. My job actually contributes to our family. For me to go to school longer, and for what,’ because they said that, ‘then that means that now I’m cut out of an opportunity to help my family,’” Lewis said last week.

The last teachers’ strike was in the fall of 1987 when Harold Washington was mayor, and lasted four weeks. It was similarly prompted by the denial of a pay raise the Chicago Board of Education said it couldn’t afford, according to past published reports.

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