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Emanuel backs crackdown on teachers

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Mayoral front-runner Rahm Emanuel supports curtailing teachers’ right to strike. And if they won’t agree to work longer hours for extra pay, he’ll ask state legislators to mandate it, he said.

“As we have [rules against strikes] for police and firefighters, I would have it for teachers because they provide an essential service,” Emanuel said.

The “Performance Counts” bill the state legislature is considering would severely limit the right of teachers to strike. The Chicago Teachers Union says it would essentially eliminate the right to strike.

There has been no teachers strike in Chicago since 1987.

Emanuel says he supports the package of reforms, which he says will reward high-performing teachers and give principals greater sway to weed out low-performing teachers.

“The bill as constructed in Springfield I’d support,” he said. “I support that legislation because I think it keeps them at the table discussing.”

The teachers’ union has a rival bill it says more fairly deals with the same issues without gutting the right to strike, a right the union has used over the years to get good salaries that make teaching in some of Chicago’s highest-crime neighborhoods attractive.

“The teachers in the city of Chicago work hard and they are good,” Emanuel said. “They are working very hard in adverse conditions in many places but they are not underpaid.”

Chicago’s short school hours and short school years set students here back, Emanuel said. A student graduating from 12 years in Houston’s schools has four years more education than one graduating from Chicago’s, he said. New York and Los Angeles students also come out with two to three years more than Chicago’s he said.

“Chicago kids are being cheated out of four years’ worth of education,” he said.

Not just for educational reasons but for their own safety, Emanuel said he would like to keep Chicago students in school longer. But he said the teachers union has shown it is not serious about considering that proposal, even when the administration offers to pay teachers more.

“At some point in the last negotiations, they were offered $345 million for an extra 45 minutes,” Emanuel said. “They actually rejected more money. Then it came down to 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 5 minutes. Two-thirds of all juvenile crimes occur from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. when they’re not in school.”

Shaking hands at “L” stops around the city, Emanuel said he has seen “an emptiness in kid’s eyes that I would never accept in my own children” — a dynamic he wants to fight.

If the teachers will not agree to work longer hours for more pay, he will ask state legislators to mandate more hours of school in Chicago for students to graduate — a new “floor” of hours the schools must meet.

“We have to create a floor as a minimum,” Emanuel said. “If you offer $345 million for an extra 45 minutes and it’s turned down, we’re not having a serious discussion.”

The CTU has many friends in the legislature and they appear to have stalled the “Performance Counts” bill for the moment, though at meetings around town Thursday, the union urged members to call legislators and urge them to fight the bill.

“They’re talking about taking away all our collective bargaining rights,” CTU President Karen Lewis said. “You’re talking about putting a hammer on Chicago Teachers Union. It’s all about threats right now. It’s not healthy or good for all of us. Let’s give collective bargaining a chance to work instead of just trying to dog us out. Rahm Emanuel is not the mayor of Chicago yet. Let’s have that discussion when he is or if he is.”

Emanuel has met with Lewis and the union leadership.

“They want to see a limitation on charters. I want to see an expansion,” Emanuel said. “They want to see a moratorium on shutting down failing schools. I don’t believe in that. I believe in a parent trigger [allowing parents to close schools.]”

He does share the unions’ opposition to vouchers.

He wants to emulate the success of Chicago Academy — a Northwest Side public school that trains teachers. He hopes to have 17 around the city.

In a 90-minute discussion with the Sun-Times editorial board Friday, Emanuel also said:

♦ He is not enthusiastic about it but he would support a city-owned downtown casino. He would not support video poker.

♦ He agrees with Mayor Daley that the Taste of Chicago should remain forever free.

♦ He opposes selling or leasing city assets such as Midway Airport.

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