Agreement reached on longer Chicago school day

July 24, 2012

Linda Lutton and Becky Vevea

Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union have reached a deal on the longer school day, which has been the source of vicious bickering, lawsuits and strike threats in the year since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office and promised to give city schoolchildren more time in class.

Chicago students will have a longer day: most elementary students will be in school an extra hour and 15 minutes, for a total of seven hours. High schoolers will have a seven-and-a-half-hour day, which is 30 additional minutes.

But teachers' work days will stay about the same, with elementary school teachers working the same number of minutes they currently do, and high school teachers working 14 minutes longer per day.
Officials say they’ll staff the longer day in part by hiring around 500 teachers laid off in past years. That works out to about one per school.

Linda Lutton stopped by Eight Forty-Eight Wednesday morning to give the update on the agreement between CPS and the CTU. 

The binding agreement comes as negotiations over a new teachers contract continue and just weeks before one-third of Chicago Public Schools students return to class for the new school year.
Mayor Emanuel said the longer school day has been a long time coming.

"We have been discussing this for over a decade in the city. That discussion is over. We now are going to give our kids the opportunity that they have been shortchanged," Emanuel told reporters at Sexton Elementary School on the city's South Side, one of a dozen schools that adopted a longer day this past year.

In an uncharacteristic ending to months of acrimony, the teachers union agreed the deal is a win for everyone and “yet another victory for CTU.”

“Chicago Public Schools has finally backed off the unworkable seven-hour and forty-minute teacher work day,” union president Karen Lewis declared. Lewis blasted the school district for failing to listen to teacher ideas for extending the day before this.

“In order to get us to where we are today, it took a march of nearly ten thousand educators, a strike authorization vote, and a fact-finders report to get CPS to move on this issue,” she said.

The deal will require elementary school teachers to spend more time at school, though not more time working. Currently, most grammar school teachers in Chicago take their 45-minute duty-free lunch after the dismissal bell rings. Now, lunch for teachers will be returned to the middle of the day. Kids will have 45 minutes for lunch and recess.

School officials say the cost of the plan is between $40 to $50 million. The budget is being reworked, but the district has said it faces a $665 million deficit and has proposed completely wiping out its reserve fund. Still, Emanuel said the longer day is essential. “We can’t afford not to give our kids the longer school day,” he said.

A longer school day has been the central plank in Emanuel’s education plan, but an independent fact-finder declared last week that teachers should be paid more if they’re asked to work more hours.

About 500 laid-off teachers will be rehired to avoid making current teachers work more. The union quickly declared that those teachers will help create the “better school day” it’s been fighting for. But principals will be allowed to hire only from the pool of teachers that have been “honorably terminated” in recent layoffs—and those teachers’ qualifications will dictate what “enrichment” kids get.  There is no guarantee that students will get any extra art, music, gym, or foreign language. The only way principals can avoid hiring from the displaced teacher pool is if fewer than three teachers from the pool apply for a particular job.

Both sides say most of the contract still has to be negotiated, including provisions involving pay and health care. Lewis said 98 percent of teachers are willing to go on strike if talks break down.