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Three CPS schools break from union, OK longer school day

Teachers year-round school Melody Elementary will each make an extr$800 this year for working longer days starting January. | John

Teachers at year-round school Melody Elementary will each make an extra $800 this year for working longer days starting in January. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:26AM

Three city elementary schools broke from the Chicago Teachers Union Friday, voting in favor of a controversial proposal to add 90 minutes to the school day this year.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard in a joint statement thanked the “courageous” teachers and principals for their “dedication to investing in our children’s future” at the three schools: Genevieve Melody Elementary, Skinner North Elementary and STEM Magnet Academy.

But the union blasted Emanuel and Brizard’s announcement as having nothing to do with improving kids’ education.

“This is political football school reform at its worst,” said CTU Vice-president Jesse Sharkey. “It’s old-style Chicago ward plantation politics.”

Sharkey accused the Chicago School Board of using “pressure, coercion and bribing,” to get the votes for a proposal that is “deeply unpopular among the vast majority of people who do this work in the city.”

Sharkey said based on his and other union leaders’ conversations with CPS teachers in recent weeks, it’s unlikely many other CPS schools will follow the example of Melody, Skinner and STEM.

One teacher at Skinner, who asked not to be named, said she voted against the longer school day but said many of the staff probably felt pressured to agree to the change.

“The preference of the principal was known, there were some strong voices against [voting no], so it doesn’t take a lot to get to 50 percent,” the teacher said. “We’re a staff of 15 people, so it doesn’t take that much, especially with a lot of new staff members who are eager not to lose their jobs.”

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said no schools have been pushed or prodded into accepting a longer school day this year.

“Several schools indicated to us over the last several weeks that there is a strong appetite to move toward a longer day because ... they don’t feel they have enough time in the classroom with students and they don’t have enough time for planning and collaboration,” Carroll said.

CPS officials say the additional 90 minutes could, among other things, allow teachers to devote more time to reading and literacy skills as well as “core academic subjects” — such as math, science and social studies. Students could also benefit from more time for lunch and recess breaks and “enrichment opportunities,” such as physical education, art, music and library time.

Carroll said teachers at Skinner and STEM voted to begin the longer day on the first day of school, while teachers at Melody plan to begin in January. The votes also called for teachers to adopt waivers, allowing them to veer from their current contracts.

In exchange for working a longer day, teachers at the three schools have accepted a “lump sum” equal to 2 percent of the average teacher salary in the district, Carroll said. That works out to $1,275 for teachers at Skinner and STEM, and $800 for teachers at Melody, because they are starting later, Carroll said. Skinner and STEM will also each receive $150,000 to help cover the cost of moving to the longer day, Carroll said. Melody is set to receive $75,000, Carroll said.

The School Board and the teachers union have been involved in a high-profile and nasty battle over a longer school day. Last week, the CTU rejected an offer of a 2 percent raise for elementary school teachers in exchange for working the longer day to begin in January. At the time, CTU President Karen Lewis said teachers would not be “bullied” by public attempts to ram through a slapdash plan. Emanuel and Brizard are eager for the longer day to begin this year, saying students are being cheated — getting 10,000 fewer minutes of classroom time annually than the national average.

A new school reform law gives CPS the power to unilaterally impose a longer school day and year but not until the current contract expires June 30.

In addition to Melody, Skinner and STEM, there are 12 other CPS schools that currently have days lengthened anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes beyond the standard school day, Carroll said.

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