Longer CPS school day to get state hearing

October 14, 2011

By Linda Lutton and The Associated Press

(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)
The campaign to get more Chicago Public Schools signed on to a longer school day might continue despite union opposition.

An unfair labor practices complaint filed by the Chicago Teachers Union is moving forward. It challenges the district’s school-by-school push for a longer school day.

The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board determined late Thursday that a violation of labor laws may have occurred. It’s calling for a December hearing and will consider next week whether a preliminary injunction should be granted to stop the district’s “Longer Day Pioneer Program.”

The union nixed the idea of moving to a longer school day district-wide in late summer, saying a longer day required planning. Shortly thereafter, CPS began offering incentives to individual schools to adopt a longer day.

The CTU complaint, filed last month, said that’s circumventing the union. And it said the incentives—including money for schools, cash payments to teachers, and allegedly iPads and extra days off–constitute illegal bribes. The complaint also alleges teachers were told their schools could close or there could be layoffs if they didn’t vote for the longer day.

“This is really about protecting the collective bargaining rights,” said CTU president Karen Lewis. “We have to do this. Because if it was up to the board they would do whatever they wanted, when they wanted, without having to deal with us.”

CPS predicted the district will prevail in the upcoming hearings—and all students with an extra 90 minutes of class time will keep it.

“This 90 minutes of additional instructional time is critical,” said district spokeswoman Becky Carroll. “It’s helping to get some students here in Chicago on par with the rest of their peers across the country.”

The union contract does allow for waivers to be voted on school by school. But CTU argues those are intended only for special cases.

Thirteen schools voted to lengthen their day under the Pioneer Schools program; some have already begun, others are slated to start with longer hours in January.

The union said it hasn’t decided yet whether it will ask the IELRB to undo those 13 votes during next week’s injunctive relief hearing. The union says it wants to talk to teachers at the 13 schools first.

A 2007 National Council on Teacher Quality report found Chicago Public Schools has the shortest school day among the nation's 50 largest districts and one of the shortest school years.

The union held a press conference Friday that also included two parents. Sarah Simmons has a seventh grader at Talcott Elementary.

“This smacks of union busting, and as part of the CPS community—even though I’m just a parent, I don’t think that’s good for the children,” Simmons said.

Lewis acknowledged CPS will adopt a longer school day districtwide next fall. She reiterated a call to make that a better day, with art, music, languages and recess.