Emanuel pushes longer Chicago school day

September 9, 2011 4:53:38 PM PDT
Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed his plan for a longer school day at an education summit on Chicago's Northwest Side.

He was joined by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who is in town to drum up support for the president's proposed spending on education reform.

The mayor, the secretary, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, and the state's senior senator, Dick Durbin, descended on the spectacular domed library at Schurz High School to tout what's happening in education here.

They had to deal with the Chicago Teachers Union, which Friday launched a lawsuit to fight the mayor's attempts to lengthen the school day.

Greeted like rock stars at an inner-city school that is known for being one of the tougher places to learn, the officials convened an educational panel and talked up the mayor's efforts to lengthen the school day at Chicago's public schools.

"Every year we go on, our kids are being cheated 10,000 minutes of instructional time with fabulous teachers," said Emanuel.

"This is about strengthening the profession; this is about educating our way to a better economy," said Duncan. "We all have to move outside our comfort zones, we all have to do things that are very, very difficult."

On Friday, the Chicago Teachers Union sued the city, saying that getting individual schools to approve and implement 90 extra minutes of teaching for a two percent wage increase for teachers, and $150,000 per school, which five schools have gone for, is an unfair labor practice that's part of a "costly campaign to discredit teachers."

"There is a situation about good faith bargaining, and the union is the representative of its members, so to go directly and bargain with the members is actually illegal," said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. "We'd like to have that stopped."

Lewis also claimed, by press release only, that in a discussion about lengthening the day with the mayor, he yelled at her and waved his finger in her face. The mayor did not deny that.

"I am not going to get into a he-said she-said... we had a good meeting, it was an hour-long meeting, we talked about the longer school day," said Emanuel. "To tell you the truth, she hugged me at the end of the meeting."

Emanuel added that taking advantage of the president's promise Thursday night in his jobs speech to spend big time capital funds on education infrastructure - $1.1 billion for Illinois alone, plus another $1.2 billion to support up to 14,500 state educator and first responder jobs - is good for the economy.

"We have a moment of opportunity. City of Chicago, the State of Illinois, please continue to seize it and go to the next level," said Duncan.

Late Friday, a fifth school in the city, William H. Brown Elementary, approved a longer school day by a 70 percent vote. Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard praised the move. According to the CPS, no school has voted no.

The mayor also spoke at the United Way of Metro Chicago's breakfast Friday.

Emanuel again pointed out that CPS saw higher attendance numbers on the first day of school, and said that was an indication of the optimism parents have in what CPS does.

He also said there is still a lot of work ahead, including his plan for longer school days. He talked about his Thursday visit to Mays Elementary, which is one of the schools that voted for longer days.

"We have really, really good teachers, dedicated to their profession, a really good principal and the innocence and the optimism in those kids' eyes. The system as structured is stacked against those teachers and those kids, and we're short-changing them because now the length of day," Emanuel said.

Emanuel also says he'll focus on more parent involvement in their kids' education, and he pointed out that CPS is now the only school system in the country with a top- to- bottom accountability, including performance-based pay for the superintendent and principals.

Meanwhile, the City Council passed a resolution that supports an extended day for Chicago Public Schools students on Thursday. The resolution not a law, but does express the council's view. It will be sent to the school board.

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