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CPS, CTU reach deal over the length of Chicago school day

Updated: December 6, 2011 8:25AM



Chicago Teachers Union officials announced a deal with Chicago Public School officials Friday that allows both sides to temporarily put down their swords in a what was becoming an increasingly nasty duel over a longer school day this school year.

Under a written agreement forged over eight hours of City Hall negotiations, CPS agreed to stop recruiting CTU-represented schools to join its longer-school-day pilot. In exchange, the CTU agreed not to pursue a preliminary injunction over the issue.

CTU President Karen Lewis said Friday she approached CPS about freezing the pilot at the current 13 union schools and asked that talks be held at City Hall to work on a compromise because “I wanted to be the adult in the room.”

At the time, CTU attorney Robert Bloch said, both sides knew Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan was preparing to seek a preliminary injunction to block CPS from pushing for more schools to stretch their school day to 7 1/2 hours, instead of the current typical 5 3/4 hours.

“A lot of people have asked, ‘Why didn’t the union let Lisa Madigan go after them and embarrass [CPS] and embarrass the mayor?’ ” Bloch said.

But he said that seeking a court order was a time-consuming distraction from contract negotiations that will start soon and it’s always “better to reach mutual agreement than be forced to do” something.

Under the deal, Bloch said, the CTU will still proceed with a Dec. 14 Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board hearing over its contentions that CPS officials acted illegally when they negotiated with teachers and schools about the pilot. The union has charged that CPS officials offered “inducements” — including two percent lump-sump pay raises to teachers and up to $150,000 in cash to schools — for joining the pilot, and threatened some schools with closure or layoffs if they didn’t join.

Lewis said she still wants a clear ruling from the labor board that going around the union in such a way is illegal; CPS officials have insisted it isn’t. However, CTU officials said, the hearing — and likely appeals — could push a resolution to well past the end of this school year.

Emanuel opened Thursday’s City Hall talks with what Lewis called “a speech” in which he “said he did not want to go to court, that he’d like to settle this.”

The meeting was Lewis’ first with Emanuel since he exploded and swore at her during a one-on-one exchange in his office this summer about the longer day, Lewis said.

This time, Lewis said, “He was very, very, very appropriate.”

“What I’m most proud of as mayor ... is that we are now gonna have our energy where it belongs: in the classroom and not the courtroom,” Emanuel said Friday at an unrelated news conference.

With negotiations on a teachers contract that expires June 30 set to begin soon, Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said Thursday’s meeting “was an important step forward in building the kind of partnership” the CTU and CPS need “to help our children be successful.”

In a letter to CPS staff, Brizard wrote that “CTU President Lewis and I agree that we need to turn the page and get on with the work of educating every child in every neighborhood.”

CTU officials also revealed Friday that they’ve asked CPS to avoid the Dec. 14 hearing by agreeing to a settlement. Terms could include a “monetary settlement” to teachers paid far less than hourly wages to work the longer day pilot and a “secret ballot” revote on the issue in their schools. “Hopefully yesterday’s discussions will lay the groundwork for more discussion” on a settlement, Bloch said.

Lewis emphasized Friday that the CTU wants “not just a longer but also a better school day.” Research indicates a “broad curriculum and smaller class sizes” are key to improving student performance, she said.

Based on a new law, CPS officials next school year can unilaterally impose a longer school day. Brizard has said he wants all schools to move to a 7 1/2-hour day and to add 10 extra days of instruction next school year, when CPS is expected to once again face a multimillion-dollar deficit.

CPS officials have estimated the cost of the 13-school pilot at $1.8 million. They also recently offered to pay up to $6 million in teacher stipends and extra cash to 43 charter schools to join the pilot. Charters are not subject to Friday’s agreement because the CTU does not represent their teachers.

Contributing: Fran Spielman



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