CPS agrees to halt Longer School Day Pioneer Program

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The Chicago Teachers Union announced Friday that CPS leaders agreed to stop asking teachers to vote for waivers to add 90 minutes to the school day.

The announcement comes after the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board decided to have the Illinois Attorney General ask a Cook County Circuit Court judge to get CPS to halt what it calls the Longer School Day Pioneer Program. Under the program, elementary schools were offered extra cash and teachers would get a bonus to extend the day this year.

“As part of our agreement, Mr. Brizard is personally notifying every CPS teacher and paraprofessional today of his decision to stop conducting the waiver votes and stop direct dealing with CPS teachers,” said CTU president Karen Lewis. “As the Union has stated numerous times on the record, it does not oppose a longer school day, but it seeks a better school day that is fairly implemented.”

In asking for the injunction, the labor board signaled that they believed the teachers union could be successful in its unfair labor practice complaint, for which a December hearing is set.

As for the 13 schools that have voted to implement longer days so far, the agreement says they’ll keep the extended days “subject to the outcome of (the) Unfair Labor Practice charge” which the board will hear on Dec. 14.

Lewis said at a news conference that the labor board complaint is continuing “because we need to make it clear that this was illegal.”

If the board were to rule in CTU’s favor after the December hearing, it would still be able to ask Attorney General Lisa Madigan to pursue an injunction against the schools’ schedules. But if that happens, it could take months for the matter to be settled in court.

“This hearing that’s supposed to take place in December, by the time it works its way through the system, we will be far past the end of the current school year,” CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said.

The agreement barring additional longer-day votes is only binding until the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board issues a final decision in the case (or until the teachers’ contract expires on June 30, whichever comes first), but CPS had set a cut-off date of Nov. 15 for schools to vote to join the Longer School Day Pioneer Program.

Both CPS and the union framed the agreement as a moment of conciliation.

“This collaboration allows all pioneer schools adopting a longer school day this year to move forward with an additional 90 minutes of instruction time for subjects like math, reading, art, and music. It also establishes a critical foundation of working together to assist every CPS school with a longer day next school year,” schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said in a statement.

Lewis said that in advocating for the structure of next year’s longer day, “we will use these 13 (schools) in some kind of way to look at best practices.”

“I am hoping we have taken some of the poison pill out of the water, and we can approach each other and work with each other,” Lewis said.

The settlement comes after months of wrangling over Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attempt to add time to CPS’ day, despite a contract that establishes the length of day. With a new law that allows Emanuel and CPS leadership to unilaterally set the length of the school day, they have promised that, when the teachers’ contract expires in June, they will put in place a 7.5 hour day.

As contract talks begin, Lewis says, the union is now situated to talk about what next year’s longer day will look like. “We have been guaranteed that we will have ongoing meetings that will re-start,” she said.

But because CPS is not required to bargain with the union over the length of the day or its structure, it is not clear what influence CTU will be able to wield in the process.

Also, last week, CPS opened the pioneer program to charter schools, offering them the same cash incentive as traditional schools. Thirty-two of them have already signaled to leadership that they plan to apply.