Fourth CPS School Votes To Break From Union, Approve Longer Day

09/08/2011 03:09 pm ET | Updated Nov 08, 2011

A supermajority of teachers at Englewood's Benjamin E. Mays Elementary Academy voted Thursday to add 90 minutes of instructional time to their school day -- the fourth Chicago Public School to break from the city's teachers union and approve the longer day.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that teachers at May will receive a lump sum payment roughly equivalent to a 2 percent salary increase in exchange for approving the longer day, set to be instituted January 1. The school itself will also receive $75,000 in discretionary funding, part of the incentives being offered by Chicago Public Schools to any elementary schools who participate in the "longer school day" pilot program.

In a joint statement, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and CPS Board President David Vitale described the vote as "another historic step forward in bringing the change we need to help our children get the world class education they deserve in every community."

"Our children continue to lag behind their peers across the nation despite the hard work of teachers," the statement read. "Teachers at Mays today are embracing a longer day as a means to help close these gaps and boost their students’ academic success in the classroom."

The school's principal, Patricia McCann-Nicholes, told the Chicago Tribune that her teachers were already working until 5 p.m. most days "[s]o the idea wasn't a big leap for us."

"For a long time now, many of us have felt we're not giving children enough time to do our very best to present a quality curriculum," McCann-Nicholes told the Tribune. "There’s not enough time in the day to get it done."

Around the same time the vote was taken at Mays, the City Council's education chair Latasha Thomas was urging the council to approve a resolution in support of the lengthened school day and asking for it to be instituted "as soon as possible," NBC Chicago reports. The Council unanimously approved the longer school day plan, although one, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said "teachers should get paid" in exchange for their longer work day.

The Chicago Teachers Union, however, has accused the mayor and CPS of bribing and coercing teachers into breaking with them and signing waivers agreeing to the longer school day while the exact content of the additional instructional time remains, largely, a mystery.

Union representatives further question how CPS will be able to find the funding (as much as $30 million) for the incentives promised to the schools OKing the longer day while, at the same time, the school board said money was not available to fund teachers' previously negotiated four percent raises. The union has filed a grievance claiming CPS violated their collective bargaining agreement with the union and may have also violated fair labor practices.

"We want to make sure that this year is what we use to plan for a better school day," CTU President Karen Lewis told NBC Chicago Tuesday. "Quality is infinitely more important [than quantity]."

Powerful Ald. Ed Burke had some harsh words for the union Thursday, and sounded very much in line with Mayor Emanuel.

“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, according to the Sun-Times. “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.”

He went on to say that "everybody agrees" with Mayor Emanuel's longer school day plan.

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