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How to create a big deal where once there wasn't any? Arne Duncan gave up on longer school day twice in Chicago contract bargaining between 2001 and 2009... Now in 2011, Duncan is pushing Emanuel's Shock Doctrine attack on Chicago Teachers Union

The day after national news reports carried Arne Duncan's remarks in support of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's push for early "waivers" of the Chicago Teachers Union contract to begin the so-called "longer school day" for some elementary schools in Chicago, Duncan himself came to town on his well-equipped Big Blue School Bus. Duncan, now U.S. Secretary of Education, was back in Chicago for a series of local media events. One of those was a carefully orchestrated and well-scripted publicity walkabout, discussion panel, and press conference at Chicago's Schurz High School.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (right, center) arrives at Chicago's Carl Schurz High School on September 9, 2011, in the middle of a major public battle between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (above left, beside Duncan). Ignoring the fact that Duncan spent the better part of the 21st Century ignoring the supposedly central issue of a longer elementary school day for Chicago, Emanuel and Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard (above right) have been creating a barrage of propaganda and media events trying to force Chicago teachers to waive their contractual rights in favor of beginning the "longer school day" during the 2011 - 2012 school year. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."We were unsuccessful," Duncan told me when I was finally able to ask him a question about whether he had tried to extend the length of the Chicago elementary school day during the eight years when he had the power to do so as "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools.

Long before Barack Obama was even a rising star in the United States Senate (thanks primarily to the support from the Chicago Teachers Union and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which put him into the Democratic nomination for the seat, at some cost to the leaders of both), Arne Duncan was in charge of Chicago's public schools. During those eight years (from July 1, 2001, when he was appointed to succeed Paul Vallas by Mayor Richard M. Daley) until January 2009 (when he was appointed U.S. Secretary of Education by President Barack Obama) Duncan ran Chicago's public schools. He had the absolute power that was originally given to the "CEO" of CPS under the Amendatory Act of 1995, the Illinois law that gave Chicago's mayor dictatorial powers over the city's huge public schools system. During his years as Chief Executive Officer of the nation's third largest school system, Arne Duncan negotiated two contracts with the Chicago Teachers Unions (and the other unions representing the school system's unionized workers). Duncan's first contract was negotiated in 2003, when Deborah Lynch was President of the Chicago Teachers Union and lasted four years.

Duncan's second contracts he negotiated with the CTU (and the other unions) during the summer of 2007. That contract lasted five years and expires on June 30, 2012. That's a total of nine years of union contracts negotiated by the guy who is now U.S. Secretary of Education, and who, on the way to Chicago in his bus in September 2011, came out behind the Shock Doctrine rush by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to try and bully Chicago's elementary teachers into "waiving" their contract rights to give the city's elementary children (and teachers) a longer school day with not equal pay increase for the time.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (above, a podium) was the main event on September 9, 2011, at Chicago's Schurz High School. Duncan arrived in Chicago following a speech by President Barack Obama that Duncan said outlined an economic plan that could provide more than $1 billion for Illinois schools (if the plan is passed by the legislature in Washington). Above, during the press conference, left to right, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, Illinois Senator Kimberly Lightford, and Advance Illinois chief Robin Steans. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was directly behind Duncan and therefore hidden from most of the cameras that were filming the event. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Duncan's talking about the "longer school day" hysteria being drummed up by Duncan's former colleague in the Cabinet Room at the White House (Rahm Emanuel was Barack Obama's Chief of Staff until he was replaced a year ago by another Chicagoan, Bill Daley, when Emanuel returned to Chicago to run for mayor) seemed perfectly timed to put the "issue" (such as it is) within the careful media framing being attempted by the Emanuel administration's huge and expensive media team. But if the "longer school day" were so important for Chicago's elementary school children in 2011, why wasn't it as important for Chicago's elementary school children in 2001, when Arne Duncan was appointed by Mayor Daley to run the Chicago schools.

And why wasn't it important that Chicago elementary children have a longer school day in 2002, when Arne Duncan began his "renaissance" attack on what he called "failing schools"?

And why wasn't it important that Chicago elementary children have a longer school day in 2003, when Arne Duncan escalated his "renaissance" attack on what he called "failing schools" and also negotiated his first contract with the CTU and other unions.

Perhaps it should have become important in 2004, when Arne Duncan, following a speech by Mayor Richard M. Daley, launched "Renaissance 2010" and began attacking inner city schools, both elementary and high schools, for "failure". He wasn't mentioning the need for a longer elementary school day then, the year that George W. Bush was winning his second term and Barack Obama was trying to get a seat in the U.S. Senate.

What about 2005, after the Chicago Teachers Union's membership had voted out reform union president Deborah Lynch (who went back to teaching, something Duncan had never bothered to do) and replaced the Lynch administration and staff (which included this reporter) with a bunch of old guard cronies from the United Progressive Caucus, led by Marilyn Stewart. Duncan didn't even mention that the "too short" elementary school day was a problem, let alone that it might be worthy of national attention. And during those years of the second Bush administration, Duncan had ample time to talk with the President of the United States and the U.S. Secretary of Education (most of the time, it was a Texas crony of Bush's named Margaret Spellings) about how Chicago could ensure that Chicago children had a longer school day. Over the second Bush term, Spellings, her staff, and even Bush himself were in Chicago regularly, usually being feted by Duncan about "school reform" as Renaissance 2010 continued the attack on African American teachers and principals.

By 2006 and 2007, Duncan had another chance to free the elementary children of Chicago (including his own, who by then were attending Ray Elementary School a few blocks from the main campus of the University of Chicago) from the tyranny of the short Chicago elementary school day. Not only did Duncan fail to mention it as a public issue, but for the second time, he failed to negotiate a union contract that would change it. And so in September 2007, Duncan's second contract with the CTU and the other unions went into effect, and there was no change in the length of the Chicago elementary school day.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (above, a podium) was the main event on September 9, 2011, at Chicago's Schurz High School. Duncan arrived in Chicago following a speech by President Barack Obama that Duncan said outlined an economic plan that could provide more than $1 billion for Illinois schools (if the plan is passed by the legislature in Washington). Above, during the press conference, left to right, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, Illinois Senator Kimberly Lightford, and Advance Illinois chief Robin Steans. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was directly behind Duncan and therefore hidden from most of the cameras that were filming the event. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.And in 2008, when Barack Obama was running for President and Arne Duncan was poised to become U.S. Secretary of Education, there was still no mention of the horrifying scandal of the short Chicago elementary school day. By 2009, neither the President of the United States (Chicago's Barack Obama), the U.S. Secretary of Education (Chicago's Arne Duncan), nor the White House Chief of Staff (Chicago's Rahm Emanuel) or anybody else with national clout mentioned that Chicago had a problem with the length of the elementary school day. Ditto most of 2010. By then, Duncan was exporting the "Chicago Plan" of privatizing public schools and turning public school facilities over to charter schools, while attacking public schools as "failures" based on the miserably flawed misuse of standardized test scores (just as he had gotten away with in Chicago during "Renaissance 2010").

But then, suddenly, things changed. In late 2010 Chicago's imperial mayor Richard M. Daley announced he wasn't running for re-election, Rahm Emanuel quit his White House job to return to Chicago and run for mayor, and the entire publicity apparatus and spin machine that had been perfected in Washington was heading towards Chicago. And once Rahm Emanuel was Mayor of Chicago, on May 16, 2011, suddenly Chicago discovered that terrible crisis in the length of the elementary school day, based on hyperventilating from Rahm Emanuel, the usual corrupt cheerleading from most of the city's corporate media, and, by the opening of school in September 2011 for the regular school year, national support from all the way up to the White House in the form of Arne Duncan's sudden realization that a problem that he had promoted during his more than eight years in charge of Chicago's public schools had to be solved immediately now that Daley was gone and Rahm was mayor.

So I went to Arne's carefully scripted media event at Schurz High School to get the stories that would unfold there, and to ask Arne the simple question: Why did it take you so long to notice that so-called problem, and why didn't you solve it when you had the power to do so while negotiating two contracts whose lengths total nine years as "CEO" of CPS.

As a bonus, one of the guys with Arne Duncan at Schurz on September 9, 2011, was Charlie Rose. While not a household name, former Chicagoan Charlie Rose was well know locally as one of the highly paid outside lawyers who actually negotiated those union contracts for Arne Duncan. As a partner (ultimately) in the law firm headed by Chicago's James Franczek, Charlie Rose knew all about those negotiations. So while my colleagues from the press (thanks, Rosalind Rossi for asking my question about Rahm's nasty treatment of my friend Karen Lewis) were asking Rahm and Arne some questions in the social room of Schurz High School, I went to Charlie Rose and asked him about whether they had tried to negotiate about that short school day when he was at the bargaining table for CPS. He got angry, tried some bluster, and finally told me that I knew that it had been discussed. Oh, by the way, Charlie Rose is not a private attorney working on contract from outside the public sector any longer. A year ago Arne Duncan appointed him General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Education, so Charlie Rose is now a public official, not a private citizen like he was when CPS (on Arne's motion) was voting to pay his old law firm between a half million and a million dollars a year for outside legal assistant during those years when Arne was telling the public that there was no money for lots of important stuff he'd love to be able to to but couldn't. (More about the 21st Century total to Franczek Sulliven -- now Franczek Radelet -- in a future Substance article). But that is wasn't an important enough issue in 2003 and 2007 to keep on the table from management's perspective (my interpretation, not Rose's words). After that, Rose wouldn't talk to me.

But after the press scrum ended, I caught up with Arne and asked him.

"We were unsuccessful," was all he'd say. "So it wasn't that important to you?"

"We were unsuccessful," came the answer again. I was going to ask a third time when I realized we were rushing out to the U.S. Department of Education bus where a bunch of Arne's fans would line up to have their pictures taken with him, and after all, it was likely he was going to repeat the same one-liner or revert to the answer he would give to my questions during the eight years I covered his reign as CEO of CPS.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin spoke about the symbolism of the Schurz High School library (above) where the main media event of September 9, 2011 was held. Durbin may not have known that since he and other politicians approved mayoral control and massive privatization of public schools, Chicago's public schools have slowly been deprived of their libraries. By 2010, 15 years after mayor control began and two years after Arne Duncan left Chicago (after eight years in command of the public schools), Chicago learned that 165 public schools did not have libraries. Most of those were silent because the Board of Education had cut the budget for librarians, although in many cases the libraries did not exist. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Whenever Arne wanted to dodge a question during those years between 2001 and early 2009, he would say, "I'll get back to you on that." Which he never did.

But since Arne is now trying to drag the spat between his former White House colleague Rahm Emanuel and my colleagues in the Chicago Teachers Union into the national spotlight, I will be sending Arne's media handlers a series of questions on all this by email.

The simplest question is, of course, this: "If it wasn't really important from 2001 through 2008 when Arne Duncan was CEO of CPS, why did it suddenly become an earth shaking issue, literally dominating the headlines, after Richard M. Daley is out as mayor and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is in?"



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