Mayor, educators react to longer school day debate

September 3, 2011 (CHICAGO)

On Saturday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded to claims by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) that the school board forced teachers at three elementary schools to agree to a longer school day.

"They voted right for our children's future. The teachers did right by their profession, and they did right by their children who they teach," Emanuel said at a Saturday news conference.

The teachers union has already filed a grievance against the district accusing them of getting principals to coerce their educators into accepting an extended schedule by bribing them with incentives and perks.

"We did hear that people were offered iPads. They were offered a lump sum," said Karen Lewis, CTU president.

When students return to class on Tuesday, the school day will be 90 minutes longer at Skinner North Elementary School on the Near North Side and the STEM Magnet Academy on the West Side.

"That is a win-win. I can't be prouder of people who decided to do what's right finally for our children," said Mayor Emanuel.

"My teachers were actually asking for a longer school day. We have a very unique curriculum at the Stem Magnet Academy. In order to effectively execute that, they felt as though they needed a longer school day," said Principal Maria McManus.

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.

CTU President Karen Lewis downplayed the vote at the three schools: "We're talking about possibly, at most, 30 faculty out of 24,000. So let's put things in perspective."

Still, the union filed a grievance, accusing Chicago Public Schools of coercion, saying teachers should not have been made to vote on the issue at all.

"It shows us that we're dealing with people who I don't think are particularly honest or above board or trustworthy because if this was something they were going to do, I don't know why they couldn't have discussed it with us first," Lewis said.

But the mayor and CPS officials say the offer accepted at the three schools is no different than one the union recently rejected.

Although the district faces a multimillion dollar deficit, all three schools will get up to $150,000 for their curriculum, and teachers at those schools will get a one-time payment that equals about 2 percent of an average salary.

"Any school that wants to do it, we're not going out and beating people, we're just asking if anyone wants to do this, we're willing to talk about it," said Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

The union says it's not against a longer school day and pay is only part of the issue. It also wants a say in how those extra minutes would be spent. The union would like art, music, physical education and other classes added to the curriculum.

No matter how long the school day, the CTA wants to get kids back to class by offering free rides to students and an adult accompanying them. Corporate sponsors will pick up half the $100,000 tab.

"We think our investment in this effort is well worth it," said Terry Peterson, Chicago Transit Board chairman.

And that's part of the purpose for those participating in the Million Father March Parade. Derrick Miller plans to take his 6-year-old daughter to school.

"You have to be a father figure. That's the right thing to do. The only thing to do to be a father figure in her life," Miller said.

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