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Teachers union, Chicago Public Schools reach deal on longer day

No more schools will join Chicago’s Longer School Day Pioneer Program this year, but the 13 schools that already approved a longer day will keep their extended hours.

The Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools reached that agreement in their ongoing battle over the longer school day Thursday, after an eight-hour City Hall meeting in which Mayor Rahm Emanuel opened talks between top officials from the union and the district.

The talks occurred as the Illinois Attorney General’s office was preparing paperwork for an injunction against the school district.

Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard sent a letter to teachers Friday saying the district now agrees not to seek a longer day this year at any more schools with union teachers.  It will also stop offering incentives to teachers and no longer deal directly with them over pay and hours.

“I have instructed the principals at all district schools to observe these terms,” Brizard’s letter says.

The resolution avoids a protracted court battle, which both the union and district say is a win.

“We must focus our efforts on the classroom – not the courtroom,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a written statement.  “A dispute over the decision of these schools to spend 90 more minutes in the classroom would have accomplished nothing for our children.”

That contrasts sharply to Emanuel’s statements two weeks ago, when the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board sided mostly with the union over the longer day. Emanuel said at that time the district had done the “right thing,” both legally and for children. Also at that time, Brizard said the district would “vigorously” defend its efforts in court to bring students more time in class. 

CPS says the vast majority of elementary schools are in session for less than six hours.

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis called the agreement a “huge win” for the union. She said the CTU does not oppose a longer school day. “It seeks a better school day that is fairly and appropriately implemented.”

A state labor board is still slated to consider whether the 13 schools that approved longer days could legally do so; proceedings and appeals in that case could take the rest of the school year.

Robert Bloch, an attorney for the union, said the CTU would like to settle that issue outside the labor board as well. He said any union settlement request would include a “monetary settlement” and a re-vote at the 13 schools.

Both the teachers union and the district are referring to Thursday’s meeting as “collaboration,” which is a word that has not been used frequently since Emanuel became mayor and Brizard was named CEO. The agreement comes as the two sides prepare for negotiations over the next teachers’ contract, which will include discussions about a longer day.

“I'm hoping that we have taken some of the poison pill out of the water and that we can approach each other and work together,” said Lewis.

Not happy with the agreement was Stand for Children, a powerful, national lobbying group that donated more than $600,000 to Illinois lawmakers and then helped push through changes in state education law last spring. One of those changes allows CPS to lengthen the school day unilaterally beginning July 1.

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