Chicago mayor takes plan for longer days directly to teachers
CHICAGO - One by one, teachers at public elementary schools here have been voting to buck their own union and take Mayor Rahm Emanuel up on an unusual offer: to accept bonus pay in exchange for waiving union contract provisions and keeping children at some schools longer each day.
By Friday, nine schools were on board and city hall said more might be on the way, even as union leaders objected to the tactic and furiously pledged to take Emanuel and his school system before a labor relations board.
For Emanuel, who has portrayed himself as a calmer, more reserved leader in his year of transformation from White House chief of staff to mayor, the uncompromising and blunt approach is both a keeping of a campaign promise and a reminder, as one political analyst put it, that “Rahm is still Rahm.’’
Emanuel and his top aides said that when it comes to hours spent in class instruction, Chicago’s 482 public elementary schools compare unfavorably with those in other cities, including Houston, Los Angeles, and New York. They said that they want children to spend more time learning at school - an idea supported by plenty of parents.
Union leaders have suggested a broader motive, saying that the sidelining of labor unions and a mood against public workers seen this year in Republican-led states such as Ohio and Wisconsin are now coming through in subtler ways in Democratic-leaning cities like this one, the nation’s third largest.
“It’s a nightmare,’’ said Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union president, who added Emanuel lived up to his reputation for foul language in a recent meeting. “You expect this stuff out of Republicans.’’
Even before Emanuel took office in May, he had called for a longer school day as part of his plan to remake education for Chicago’s more than 400,000 public school students. Figures provided by the school system show that elementary school students in public schools here are well behind those in other cities in time spent in class each year: 52,360 minutes (about 873 hours) in Chicago compared, for instance, with 60,060 minutes (1,001 hours) in New York (an estimate New York school officials say sounds about right).
“Everybody knows it’s not working,’’ Emanuel said. “The system is stacked against teachers and against kids.’’
Last month, after union officials turned down a proposal to pay teachers 2 percent more to teach 90 minutes longer each day, Emanuel and Jean-Claude Brizard, Emanuel’s schools chief, took the offer straight to the schools.
Any elementary school that went along with the idea, which school officials began calling the Longer School Day Pioneer Program, would get extra money ($150,000 for those that started right away), and its teachers would get what amounts to a 2 percent bonus.
By agreeing to the deal, the teachers waive specific provisions of their contracts involving the length of the school day and after-school pay requirements. Schools get to decide how to use the extra 90 minutes, but it must be spent in instruction in areas such as math, science, literacy, art and music.
As a trickle of schools, through votes by their employees, have begun taking Emanuel’s offer, union leaders have angrily denounced it as an end run around the union, and as some combination of bribing, threatening, and coercing unwitting schools and teachers.