Chicago Public School students returned to class Tuesday following a dramatic summer for their teachers and new CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard.
An estimated 300,000 students and 20,000 teachers headed to their prospective schools following an aggressive push by Brizard and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to have 100 percent attendance on the first day. One way the city tried to reach that goal was by offering free bus and train rides to kids and adults traveling with them between 5:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday, the Associated Press reports.
"I think everybody is glad to see the young kids back in school. And with the economy the way it is, with so many parents struggling the way they are, school is probably the best place for them to be," 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell, said at a South Side barbershop Monday, according to the Chicago Tribune.
For the past 12 years, Cain's Barber College has offered free haircuts to CPS students, ABC Chicago reports. The students also received donated book bags and school supplies. Those who show up to class on the first day will get a free pass to the Museum of Science and Industry as well.
Late last week, Brizard and Emanuel received some welcome news from three small schools, where teachers voted to add 90 minutes to their day during the upcoming academic year. The Chicago Teacher's Union reacted angrily to the news, calling Brizard and Emanuel's attempts to "bribe" those schools to get what they wanted "political school reform at its worst."
In exchange for agreeing to the longer school day, the two schools making the change immediately will receive up to $150,000 in discretionary funds, to improve classroom instruction. Their teachers will receive a one-time lump sum bonus roughly equal to 2 percent of their district's average salary. The teacher's union also said those who agreed to implement the longer school day immediately received iPads for their cooperation, but school officials denied that claim.
Some parents told ABC Chicago they supported a longer school day, but felt teachers should be fairly compensated for the extra classroom time.
"I don't think they make the money that they should, so if they're asked to work longer, they should have some kind of increase in their pay. So, I do support them in that way," Sylvia Lanza told ABC.
The CTU has accused the Board of Education, Brizard and Emanuel of debating the longer school day through press releases and publicity stunts, and refusing to really negotiate with teachers. The union rejected CPS's offer of a 2 percent pay raise in exchange for a longer school day in August after the Board rejected their previously agreed-upon, 4 percent cost-of-living raise.
"Yes, we fully support a better, smarter school day for our children but teachers are now being asked to work 29 percent longer for only a 2 percent pay increase," CTU President Karen Lewis said in a statement. To that we say thanks but no thanks. For a teacher earning $57,000 a year the increase would mean a mere $3.41 an hour, less than minimum wage. Teachers on average already work 21 hours more than they are paid for; we grade papers, create lesson plans, confer with parents and counsel our students. There will be little time for us to do any of that."
Emanuel and Brizard say Chicago students are currently getting 10,000 fewer minutes of classroom time annually than the national average. Despite the ongoing battle, Brizard told NBC he is confident teachers will show up on Tuesday and give it their all.
"The one thing I know about teachers from 25 years as a teacher and working with teachers is that no matter what is happening on the outside, they're professionals," he said. "They're going to walk into that classroom and give 150 percent."
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