CTU alleges coercion in vote to extend school day

September 3, 2011 7:01:51 AM PDT
The Chicago Teachers Union accuses the school board of using coercion and bribery to get teachers at three elementary schools to vote in favor of longer school days.

Those schools and their teachers are getting more money to cover the costs. School officials say the teachers are putting their students first.

ABC7 learned Friday night that the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) had already filed a grievance against the school district, saying the school board has coerced school principals to force teachers into this decision.

There was a sharp contrast on how events played out Friday. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) leadership called the teachers "courageous," while the CTU said those teachers were pressured and politically badgered.

When school starts Tuesday, students and teachers at two Chicago public schools will be in class 90 minutes longer.

Teachers at Skinner North Elementary School on the Near North Side and STEM Magnet Academy in the University Village neighborhood voted on the change Friday.

Chicago's School Board President David Vitale, who taped an interview for ABC7's NewsViews Friday, emphasized how the district is encouraging schools to lengthen the school day.

"We are also offering the opportunity to schools this year if they want to voluntarily take on this, which they have the right to do so under the existing contract if they want to do it, and we'll probably try to find some way to support that effort," said Vitale.

Teachers at a third school, Genevieve Melody Elementary on the West Side, will also extend their school day by 90 minutes, but that change will not go into effect until January.

Upon hearing the news, the CTU immediately fired back Friday, accusing the district of pressuring the teachers and, perhaps, even bribing them with financial incentives and perks.

"I think that this is a kind of a system of bribing and cajoling in order to try to find some small number of people in a big school system that will agree to this so that it can then become headline news," said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey.

Friday night, a CPS spokeswoman would not respond to the bribery allegation. Earlier Friday, Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean Claude Brizard issued a joint statement, saying in part: "Teachers stood up today to say they want to help lead this change. We support them and commend them for the message they are sending to our city that our children must come first."

The CTU has now filed a grievance and says that, up to this point, the district and union have not had a substantive conversation about lengthening the school day.

"We hope that the CEO of schools, Brizard, and the board of education stop this nonsense and take this process a little bit more seriously," said Sharkey.

Skinner and STEM Academy will each receive $150,000 dollars. Melody will get $75,000. Also, teachers at those schools will get a one-time payment that equals about 2 percent of an average salary.

On Saturday, Emanuel and Brizard are holding a news conference about the first day of school. This issue is sure to come up at that time.

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