Heard the one about who has the 'shortest school day'? Corporate propaganda across the USA challenges teacher unions... Chicago teachers show unity at House of Delegates meeting

The monthly meeting of the Chicago Teachers Union's House of Delegates on September 14, 2011 showcased a unified teaching force which came out in a record number to express their solidarity with the union leadership in going to battle against an ambitious mayor who was elected on a corporate platform to destroy the union.

CTU President Karen Lewis at the September 13, 2011 Chicago Tribune forum on education. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.“We did not promise we can win,” CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey told the delegates. “We just promised we would fight. And if we don’t fight, we don’t win.”

Clearly the teachers — who filled the large Engineers Union Hall on S. Grove St. to a near record capacity — came to express their outrage at the mayor’s attempt to trash the teachers’ contract to quickly install his corporate agenda.

That agenda appears to come straight from the top, where all around the country government leaders are telling urban public school teachers the same thing as in Chicago, ya all have the shortest school year.

“In Washington state the union president told me we’re under siege, they say we have the shortest school day,” Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis told the delegates. “And then in Kansas, they also told the union they have the shortest school day.”

Most suburban school districts have a similar school day as Chicago, and private schools have even shorter days, where parents are willing to pay $35,000 a year to ensure it, Sharkey said.

“They have a playbook to destroy the union,” Lewis said. “It is the unions that have provided decent living standards for people to enter the middle class.”

Lewis repeated to the delegates that the union does not want a longer day, but a better day for the teachers.

The union pointed out that such a day should be modeled on the University of Chicago private lab school where Emanuel’s children, and President Obama’s before, attend. That would include more art and music and project learning, something the lab students get, but Chicago public school students do not.

This is a hot point for the mayor, who according to the Sun Times, stopped an interview with NBC News earlier this year when the reporter asked him where he would send his children to school. According to the Sun Times, he then admonished the reporter for asking such a question (because the TV networks are not supposed to criticize the mayor’s corporate agenda, right?).

The main item on the House of Delegates agenda was passing a budget that included a beefed-up organizing and research department, while cutting back on some of the outrageous perks and benefits of officers and field reps from the past.

“We hired a research team to show merit pay doesn’t work, that we know more about teacher evaluations and to protect our contract,” Sharkey said, adding that 37 percent of the CTU budget goes toward contract enforcement.

A couple of light-hearted objections to passing the budget came from two teachers affiliated with the UPC caucus, one who questioned money allocated to legislators, and the other who said they just need more time before voting on it.

The vote passed in a clear majority of yeas versus nays.

Onahan delegate, and veteran UPCer, Diane Blazak, rallied the teachers to visit their aldermen and express their outrage that the aldermen would fully support the resolution for a longer school day without expressing concerns from the teachers. (The URL for the Substance story on the City Council meeting is§ion=Article).

The aldermen voted 50 to 0 on September 8 in favor of the longer school day resolution. The CTU said there was clearly strong-arm tactics used by the mayor to ensure the unanimous vote, such as the infamous threat to cut off funding in wayward wards. Among other things, reliable sources told Substance that Rahm Emanuel's aides visited some aldermen and told them that they wouldn't get any renovations or school construction in their wards unless they voted in favor of the resolution.

“When we visit the aldermen, we need to be prepared,” Blazek said. “I told mine that there are 750 teachers who live in the ward, and he never asked them about the vote.”

Karen Lewis also reminded the delegates that the new law on school facilities (which was passed over the objections of Rahm Emanuel) requires that all facilities decisions follow a clear procedure. Some delegates also mentioned that the threats from the mayor against aldermen on September 8 would be a violation of the new facilities law if Emanuel attempted to carry them out.

During the meeting, waiver votes were announced in which several schools voted against the longer school day, to loud applause.

While currently the corporate media is pumping up the fact that now seven elementary schools have bucked the union and voted for a longer school day (no need for Rahm to cut off their interviews, right?), the fact is perhaps 100s of schools have said no.

The union is currently compiling the data as delegates call in to say they voted no – either formally or informally – against waiving their contract rights and agreeing to a much longer school day (90 more minutes per day, and two extra weeks).

A delegate from Steinmetz High School asked the union to publicize the fact that it could also be more dangerous for children to leave the schools at later hours when it starts getting dark.

One northside delegate told Substance at the meeting that their principal feels like a pawn because of the pressure the Board of Education is putting on schools to vote for a longer school day (while CPS is denying this, saying teachers are themselves asking for a longer school day). Another southside delegate told the teachers that she heard Emanuel is trying to get pre-service teachers to sign a form that they would cross any future picket lines should the CTU decide to strike.

“This is too far into the future,” Lewis said. “This is going to get dirty. We need to roll up our sleeves.”

“How many of you remember when there were no prep periods," she added. "Everything in our contract we had to fight for. And they’ll take that all away if we don’t (fight to keep it).”


September 17, 2011 at 12:34 PM

By: Erin Jameson

Longer Day for SPED

Are all the IEPs in CPS going to have to be revised to reflect the longer day? That will take a very long time. A longer day may very well be better for the students but we have to plan for it.

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