Talks on longer school day derail over location

Jean-Claude BrizardUnionsJobs and WorkplaceChicago MayorChicago Public SchoolsMark Kirk

After weeks of bitter fighting over the district’s efforts to introduce a longer school day, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union appeared ready to sit down and talk today.

But then, they found something else to argue about — choosing a meeting location.

On Friday, CTU president Karen Lewis invited schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard to meet inside the union headquarters on Oct. 11 to discuss the district’s plan for a longer school day.

The district responded that union leadership should join Brizard and his team at one of the handful of schools currently implementing the longer day.

While they insisted on their preferred venues, both sides said they’re really serious about talking.

“We are agreeing to meet with them – we’re merely saying let’s meet at a school that has implemented the longer school day so we can see what schools are actually doing with the additional 90 minutes,” said CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll.

The union said district officials seemed to like CTU headquarters fine as a venue for previous meetings.

Moreover, since the two sides often alternate between preferred meeting locations, they wanted to pick.

“They’ve asked us many times to meet with them,” said CTU staff coordinator Jackson Potter. “I think we’re being reasonable.”

For weeks, Lewis has rejected Brizard’s offer to join an advisory committee to study how best to launch an extended day for the 2012-2013 school year.

Last week, Brizard asked Lewis to be involved in the ongoing pilot effort, seeking her input in choosing an additional 25 schools to start a longer day in January.

Without saying yes, Lewis recognized the gesture as a peace offering Friday, and acknowledged in her letter to Brizard the inevitability of longer school days in Chicago.

“We are pleased to know CPS is now willing to work in partnership with us on how to provide a longer, better school day for our students and teachers when extended schedules are implemented systemwide during the 2012-2013 academic year,” the letter said.

The campaign for an extended day, championed by Mayor Emanuel, turned ugly last month when the mayor offered extra money to schools and teachers willing to defy the union and vote for the longer day.

Claiming many of the 13 pilot schools conducted such votes illegally, the union filed a complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, and both sides accused each other of exerting pressure on teachers.

On Friday, Brizard continued to campaign for an extended day as he toured Skinner North Classical School — among the first to implement the idea — with Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

After the trio chatted with parents, Brizard told the senators that other school districts in Illinois have contacted him to say they’re looking to follow Chicago’s lead.

“They said, 'we're watching,' “ Brizard said. “They want to begin considering it for their own districts.”

nahmed@tribune.com

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