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Council backs longer school day; Burke ‘embarrassed’ by teachers union

Alderman Edward M. Burke Mayor Rahm Emanuel floor City Council before start Chicago City Council meeting Thursday September 8 2011.

Alderman Edward M. Burke and Mayor Rahm Emanuel on floor of City Council before start of Chicago City Council meeting, Thursday, September 8, 2011. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: November 9, 2011 1:04PM

A City Council packed with allies of organized labor on Thursday took a powerful stand against the Chicago Teachers Union by supporting a longer school day championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) was labor’s staunchest ally in the marathon battle over Wal-Mart’s entry and expansion in the Chicago market. But Burke said he finds the CTU’s opposition to the longer school day more and more difficult to defend.

Burke has three grandchildren at Skinner Elementary, one of four schools that have bucked the Teachers Union by adding 90 minutes to the school day.

“As someone who has been as strong as I could be in support of organized labor, … I’m starting to get embarrassed at the attitude of some leaders of organized labor,” Burke said.

“... The union is not trying to figure out a way to get this accomplished. They seem to be obstructing the end goal that so many people agree needs to happen.”

Turning to Emanuel, Burke said, “Mr. President, you’re on the right track. Everybody agrees with you. ... That should encourage you to not pick a fight with the union, but you can’t back away from it, either. This is something that has to happen. It’s going to happen. And the leaders of the unions ought to jump on board this train because it’s starting to leave the station.”

In a statement released later Thursday, the teachers union blasted aldermen for caving in to Emanuel’s demands.

“It is unfortunate the City Council bowed to the pressure of a well-orchestrated propaganda campaign that has no scientific evidence to show that this will do anything to improve the quality of education in our neighborhood schools,” the statement said. “It is shameful that not one politician stood up for our students and teachers who deserve better. A longer school day is inevitable but how will it be funded and how will it be planned?

“The Chicago Teachers Union supports a longer school day if it’s also a better school day. Our concern is about quality not quantity. We do not want our teachers and paraprofessionals coerced and bullied into signing away their contractual rights in order to get the resources they sorely need,” the statement continued.

“The longer school day campaign is nothing more than a political gimmick based on lies, misinformation and half-truths,” the statement said.

But Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said 90 minutes more in class is not enough. He pushed for an even longer day so parents lucky enough to have a job won’t have to leave work early to pick up their kids.

Although several aldermen expressed misgivings about plucking off schools one by one to sign waivers and implement the longer school day immediately, nobody voted against the resolution.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) came the closest to opposing the mayor’s strong-arm tactics.

“If you listen to your parents, if you listen to the principals, if you listen to the teachers out there, they all want this,” he said. But “we need to make sure that everyone sitting at the table is thinking about this together — that teachers are getting paid appropriately for the work that they’re gonna put in.”

Emanuel said the resolution declares in no uncertain terms that the City Council speaks with “one voice as it relates to the length of day and the length of year.” But the resolution is “only the beginning” of what he plans to ask from aldermen.

“Ald. [Willie] Cochran told me he is gonna go out and not talk to his principals and teachers, but start to organize and bring ’em in [to sign waivers]. So, I want you not only to vote with this resolution. I want you now to burn the phone lines,” Emanuel said.

“I won’t back down. … Those kids have not had a voice. ... I ask you to lend your voice and roll up the schools in your neighborhood … I want this systemwide. … We have a system that is structured against our teachers and our kids. And everything else we do pales by comparison to this challenge.”

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