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Englewood school is fourth in Chicago to adopt longer class day

Updated: September 9, 2011 1:38AM

An Englewood elementary school has become the fourth in the city to buck the Chicago Teachers Union and agree to add 90 minutes to the school day.

As ministers rallied Thursday at City Hall and Chicago aldermen prepared to join them by approving a resolution in favor of the longer school day, teachers at Benjamin Mays Elementary, 838 W. Marquette, overwhelmingly agreed to work 90 minutes longer, beginning in January.

The 81 percent vote handed another symbolic victory to Mayor Rahm Emanuel in his quest to move up the timetable on his signature education initiative — instituting a longer school day and school year

Emanuel lobbied the Illinois General Assembly to approve the longer school day and school year, but he can’t implement it this year without union approval to do so citywide or authorization from teachers to do so at individual schools.

After rescinding a 4 percent pay raise tied to the teachers contract, schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard offered to give 2 percent back, but only to elementary school teachers who agreed to work 90 minutes longer this school year.

The Chicago Teachers Union rejected that offer, but Emanuel, refusing to take “no” for an answer, has worked with Brizard to rally parents and ministers behind the immediate change while attempting to pick off individual schools one by one.

Last week, Genevieve Melody Elementary, Skinner North Elementary and STEM Magnet Academy became the first Chicago schools to defy the teachers union and agree to the longer class day. On Thursday, when Benjamin Mays Elementary joined that movement, a delighted Emanuel called the school’s principal to commend her for her “courage.”

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

Union leaders have accused Emanuel and Brizard of using old-style Chicago ward plantation politics,” including “pressure, coercion and bribing” to convince small groups of teachers at individual schools to sign waivers.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey has also questioned how school board members could fail to find the money to fund previously negotiated 4 percent teacher raises — worth $80 million — if Brizard now contends he could find, if necessary, $15 million to $30 million for a longer school day pilot program this year.

The union is exploring whether legal action is possible, based on a pay raise recision vote that lacked “good faith,” Sharkey said.

Board members can cancel a raise if they have a “reasonable expectation” that the school system can’t afford it but not “if you don’t feel like it or there’s something else you want to do with the money,” Sharkey said earlier this week.

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.

Thursday’s City Council vote in favor of a longer school day is aimed at supporting teachers at the four schools — and others who may join them — -who are “taking a ton of heat” for bucking their union, a top mayoral aide said.

Emanuel, Brizard and School Board President David Vitale issued a joint statement applauding Mays Elementary teachers for “investing in our children’s future.”

“This is another historic step forward in bringing the change we need to help our children get the world class education they deserve in every community,” the statement said.

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