Reporting Susanna Song
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UPDATED 09/19/12 11:27 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Public Schools students were back in class after seven missed days Wednesday, as the teachers’ strike has come to an end.
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates voted at a meeting Tuesday afternoon to suspend the strike, which started on Sept. 10.
On Wednesday morning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was at Chopin Elementary School in Ukrainian Village, where he was careful to focus on just the positive aspects of the new tentative contract and children returning to school.
Emanuel admitted he did not know all the answers for the future, but promised parents, students and even taxpayers overall that they will be getting more for less.
“This is an exciting day for the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said. “Most exciting because our kids are back and you can see it in their eyes.”
Parents were likewise glad their kids were back in school.
Rosa Olvera said she was “very happy for them, because they’re missing a lot of days and they’re getting behind.”
Parents were happy to drop off their children at Chopin Elementary, 2450 W. Rice St., on Wednesday morning. Mayor Emanuel greeted students who came to school early for the free breakfast program.
The mayor calls this tentative teacher’s contract more frugal than compared to the past. He said the district was able to cut down on sick days, vacation time and health care costs, which is why the budget was significantly lower.
Emanuel said while this new contract costs the city $75 million a year, the two previous contracts averaged $130 dollars a year.
He praised the new deal for five reasons:
• The longer school day;
• Keeping principals accountable for hiring teachers;
• Hiring the best teachers, partially due to the new evaluation system;
• Parental involvement – parents will get a regular report card of the school’s academics and budget;
• More rigorous academic standards.
“In this contract, our taxpayers are paying less, and our kids are getting more – an hour and 15 minutes every day,” Emanuel said.
“This is a fundamental break from past,” he continued. “There are things that we still have to do academically. There are things that work financially Still things need to be done academically, and things, our work financially us not done. But my first goal was to right the ship educationally.”
Emanuel avoided any questions about his relationship with the Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. But he did say he has confidence in CPS chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard to continue to do a good job, dispelling any rumors of Brizard losing job after contract talks were over.
Meanwhile, union officials are pleased with many terms of the contract, including a double-digit salary increase over the next there years.
According to the union, the contract also calls for:
• No merit pay, which had been sought by the district.
• Preserving “step increases,” which are based on teacher experience, with increased value for the three highest steps.
• Hiring an additional 512 teachers in art, music, physical education, world languages, and other “special” subjects as part of the longer school day.
• Requiring half of all CPS hires be previously laid-off teachers.
• Mandating teachers whose positions are eliminated due to school closures and “follow their students” to other schools.
• Allowing laid-off teachers 10 months of “true recall” to their old school if a new position opens.
• Reimbursing teachers up to $250 for out-of-pocket expenses on school supplies.
• An agreement by CPS to hire more nurses, social workers, and school counselors if new revenue is available, including from Tax Increment Financing funds.
• The new teacher evaluation system, which limits to 30 percent the weight given to student improvement on standardized test scores, rather than the 40 percent sought by the district.
• Protecting tenured teachers from losing their jobs due to evaluations in the first year of the contract.
• Allowing an appeal of a “neutral” rating on teacher evaluations.
• A guarantee that all CPS students and teachers have textbooks on the first day of class.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the vote to end the strike was almost unanimous, but not quite.
“Ninety-eight to 2 percent, I would say,” Lewis said. “I mean, there are some people that are just going to be diehard holdouts, and some people brought up that they are still very angry about the 4 percent raise, and they wanted that to be an issue. We have agreed to not continue to arbitrate that issue.”
Last year, the union got into a public fight with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and schools chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard, after the Chicago School Board canceled 4 percent pay raises that were part of the teachers’ contract. But Lewis conceded that the new contract couldn’t fix everything.
“We said that it was time, that we couldn’t solve all the problems of the world with one contract, and that it was time to suspend the strike,” she said.
And as for the students, they seemed to have mixed feelings about having to return to class.
At Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, 211 S. Laflin St., most students who talked with WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya said they were glad to be starting the new school year.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports
“I’m glad that we’ll get to go back to the classroom, and I’ll see my classmates,” said Maddy Ben-Yosef, 15.
She said while she was out of school, “I danced alone at home to some music and did some homework.”
But not everyone was excited to be back in school.
“Honestly, I’m not really looking forward to it, but I guess it’s good to be back so I can get back into the schedule of everyday school,” said Kuba Sokolowski, 14.
When asked what he did during his time off, he said, “Nothing really; I guess just slept in and studied; did homework.”
No one yet knows when students will make up the missed class time.
“There hasn’t been a firm decision on that,” Chicago School Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz said Wednesday morning. “It likely we will add some days on at the end of the school year and throughout the school year to make sure that we get that full 180 days that frankly was one of the issues that we fought for this year – a longer day, a longer school year – and have more time in the classroom with the great students, with teachers that we have here in the Chicago Public Schools.”
But one way or another, the time will be made up, Ruiz said.
“We are going to try and ensure that they have the complete school year that we anticipated for them several weeks ago,” he said.
The union has not yet ratified the tentative contract. Members still need to approve the final deal, which will be up for a vote in the coming weeks.