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Chicago’s school day will get longer, Rahm Emanuel pledges

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Students in Chicago’s public schools will spend an extra hour or hour and a half in school each day once new legislation makes it out of Springfield, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel said Friday.

Emanuel said the issue of how much more teachers will get paid is open to negotiation — but not the question of whether the school day will be longer. It will be, Emanuel said.

“We’re not going to negotiate or discuss whether children get more instruction — we will work together so that gets done. I’m not deviating from that. I was clear about it,” Emanuel said after speaking at a South Side charter school.

More than any other mayoral candidate, Emanuel said he strongly backed curtailing teachers’ right to strike and a longer school day.

Chicago students are “cheated” by not getting as much school time as Houston’s students, Emanuel said.

And if the school day grows by 18 percent — going from five hours and 45 minutes to six hours and 45 minutes or more — that doesn’t necessarily mean teachers’ pay will also be boosted 18 percent by the cash-strapped school board, Emanuel said.

“That’s not the only way to make sure our teachers are compensated,” he said.

His message to teachers: “Come to the table. We’re not going to argue about a longer school day. You’re good professionals. You want to be professionals. There is a longer school day and a longer school year.”

The Chicago schools face a $720 million deficit. The current teacher contract runs through June, 2012, but Emanuel feels so strongly about this issue he would like to get the school day lengthened for this coming school year, an aide said. A typical Chicago Public School day now lasts from 9 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.

Emanuel suggested teachers have declined more pay for more hours before:

“Three or four years ago, they rejected a pay raise — 6 percent for 45 minutes of additional instruction time,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel’s story is not backed up by sources from either side involved in those contract negotiations.

Union notes of an April 3, 2007 bargaining session show Chicago Public School officials “asked for 45 more minutes and said no money was attached to it — and that was the end of that,’’ said Chicago Teachers Union spokeswoman Liz Brown.

A CPS insider said the board offered teachers an additional 2 percent bump in 2007 in exchange for an extra 45 minutes of teaching every day — but for just one year. That was turned down and the final contract included four percent annual raises without any increase in the school day.

Chicago teachers have it pretty good, Emanuel said: “Every year for the last nine years, pay has been increased by 4 percent. Instructional time: zero, Those are facts. Which is why we have the shortest school day and shortest school year of any major city.”

Not exactly, Brown said.

A fact-sheet issued by the union noted that the school day was extended 15 minutes following contract talks in 2004. The 4 percent pay raises go back seven years, not nine.

And while Emanuel said Chicago students get far less instruction than those in Houston, Los Angeles or Boston, Brown said Houston is an “outlier” requiring far more hours of instruction — 1,304 a year — than any major city. Chicago, which requires 946 instructional hours a year, is between Los Angeles, which requires 954 hours, and New York City, which requires 930, Brown said.

As the state House of Representatives prepares to vote on the education legislation the State senate passed 59-0 this week, the discussion needs to be less about how much more teachers will be paid and more about what new things children will learn, Emanuel said.

“I want to have a discussion: What is that hour and a half going to be used for? Is it for math?” Emanuel said.

An hour and a half?

“Maybe it’s an hour — whatever the school board decides,” he said.

Emanuel told students at Johnson College Prep that he was deeply involved in passing the legislation.

“I met with Speaker Mike Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, Sen. Lightford, multiple times, as recently as Monday for an hour and a half in my office,” Emanuel said. “Everybody around the country is now looking at this as a role model. I’m pleased we’re on the doorstep before I even get sworn in.”

Mayor Daley tried unsuccessfully for years to get longer school days, often citing Houston as a model. A stumbling block has always been the cost of paying teachers. Former Schools CEO Ron Huberman got around this last year by introducing a new pilot program that added 90 minutes to the school day in 15 schools using online learning and mostly non-certified teachers.

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