Chicago Public Schools | Track-E, year-round CPS classes begin - FOX 32 News Chicago

Classes begin for CPS Track-E, year-round students

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Monday was the first day of school for about a third of Chicago Public School students.

All 243 "Track-E" or year-round schools started Monday morning. All other Chicago public schools start on Tuesday, Sept. 4.

Although it was a rainy first day of school, parents were excited for the school year to begin. Their kids were a little less enthusiastic about the end of summer, but they showed up bright and early anyway. 

Beyond the bells and whistles of the first day of school, parents and teachers are sounding off about the looming teachers strike and longer school day.

"I think the school day as it was before might have been too short but I think now it's maybe too long," said Leon Hamilton, father and board member of the local school council.

Hamilton's son is a 7th grader at Nino Heroes Elementary School where we've learned the additional time was allocated to recess, lunch and art.

 "I'd like it to be in some area that is really engaging.  If it means that you're going to spend more time in the computer lab or the science lab and that's what's fun for you, then I think that's where it should go," Hamilton said.

Eboni Tankersley-Heath is a teacher who says that the way that things are being distributed is not exactly how the public thinks it is. "At some point we have to put our foot down and demand our just due.  Nobody can be successful without coming through elementary school doors."

Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard rang the opening bell at Lindblom High School Monday morning, and she says it's up to each school how to utilize the extra time.

"They know what students actually needed and what's really been wonderful to watch is the variety in which people are implementing the full school day," Brizard commented.

The change comes amid the threat of a strike and ongoing negotiations between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union, trying desperately to reach a fair deal for both sides.

The union believes they are entitled to an all-around raise, considering the changes CPS have made to the structure of the school day and school year.

They say that if they are to accomplish a longer school day – extended by 90 minutes – and a brand new core curriculum, they should be given the appropriate resources to do so and proper compensation for the additional work.

Teachers want to give their students the education they deserve, and without changes to their contract (in addition to the issue of pay raises) that allow them more resources, they feel they cannot do their jobs.

The School Board and teachers union did come to an agreement near the end of July on the longer school day, saying that employed CPS teachers will work the same hours and 477 new teachers will be hired to accommodate the extra time. Those teachers will be selected from a pool of former teachers who were recently laid-off.

One Lindblom parent said she thinks the longer school day will be beneficial to the students, because her son used to go to a school that had students in class from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. each day, and the results were better.

See: CPS, CTU agree on longer school day

All this is to be implemented when the district faces a deficit of $665 million budget deficit this year. CPS proposed a $5.73 billion fiscal 2013 budget in July.

The CTU took a strike authorization vote in June, and nearly 90 percent voted to approve a strike.

See: Nearly 90 percent of CTU members vote to authorize strike

Brizard has said in the past that he wanted to give the teachers the raise they asked for, but the district simply did not have enough money to give them the originally requested 30 percent raise.

An independent fact-finder's report was released on July 16, which recommended a 15 percent pay raise for Chicago teachers. Contract negotiations continue.

See: Independent fact finder recommends raise for Chicago teachers

Brizard remains optimistic about the two groups' ability to come to a fair deal before Labor Day.

"We made good progress in the past year. We've worked out more than 400 issues," Brizard said. "We have a few big ones left to come to resolution on. The fact that we have this agreement on the school day should be a good sign for all of us that we're making good progress."

When asked about the plan if a teacher's strike were to happen, Brizard told FOX News Chicago, "we will be prepared if there is a strike but I want to make sure and be clear that none of us can replace the 25,000 teachers who are in the classroom every day. Parents should know we're doing everything possible to avoid a strike."

If the teachers will strike, it would take place the Tuesday after Labor Day. The union would also have to notify the schools well in advance of their walk-off, so that preparations could be made.

Another Lindblom parent said he isn't worried about the threat to strike, saying that he's confident the district and teachers union will come to an agreement by the necessary date.

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