Union changes tactics on longer day

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After being “blindsided” by a September City Council resolution supporting Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts to institute a longer school day, the Chicago Teachers Union today made an effort to win them over in meetings at the downtown Hotel Allegro. CPS officials have held similar meetings in recent weeks.

For the union’s part, the meetings were also an opportunity to re-frame its message and emphasize that its long-running spat with the district is about the school day’s shape and implementation, rather than its size.

“The longer school day is coming; it will be here… we want to discuss what that looks like,” CTU president Karen Lewis said at a press briefing between meetings.

Legislation enacted in May stipulates that districts don’t have to negotiate with unions over the length of the school day and year; CPS will have free rein to lengthen the school day after its current contract with teachers expires this summer.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th Ward) also addressed reporters. He urged the union and CPS to set aside their differences over the length of the day, which have triggered a months-long public relations battle as well as a legal fight before the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board about the legality of CPS offering teachers bonuses at schools that vote to extend their day.

“Nobody’s opposed to the 90 minutes. The union’s not opposed to it, there’s not one alderman that’s opposed to it; the only hurdle is how do we implement the 90 minutes,” Beale said (though the union most recently floated a proposal for a day that would be 75 minutes longer.) He said if the union and CPS can both see that aldermen support their concerns, it could help create “a happy medium” in the longer-day implementation process.

Lewis said the CTU will ask the City Council to hold committee hearings on education issues in the future. In addition to the longer day, discussions with aldermen also touched on merit pay, Lewis said, with the union arguing that “study after study has shown it does not work,” as well as teacher layoffs, charter schools, and problems with the district’s enrollment projections, which prevent many schools from finalizing their teaching staff until the 20th day of the school year.

She also said she will talk with schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard about his request that the union help him identify 25 more elementary schools to adopt a longer school day in January, though when pressed about whether the union might accept, she turned sarcastic, as if the answer was clearly no. “What do you think about that?” she asked.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll says that the district has also been briefing aldermen and other stakeholders over the last few weeks, “to lay out how our children are lagging academically across multiple benchmarks” and outline research showing that a longer school day could improve achievement.

“We are very encouraged to hear that Ms. Lewis informed the media that she is open to talking with CEO Brizard about his offer to have CTU identify the next 25 schools that will move to a longer day in January and provide 90 minutes more of instructional time in the classroom to help boost student achievement,” CPS said in a statement. “We are ready to meet tomorrow with Ms. Lewis to discuss this offer if she is willing.”