Public Schools

Chicago Schools Face Uncertain Future as Politicians Spar


Headlines a week ago centered on negotiations between the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) board and also the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Talks aren't running smoothly, with every side pointing to serious consequences if no agreement is available. But behind those headlines, more significant issues remain to be tackled.

The school year began last September with a brand new contract having to be negotiated, and that remains so. Last week, the teachers' union rejected the district's last offer, leaving the situation unresolved. The Chicago Tribune article reports: \”Contract talks, that have now gone on for more than a year, will transfer to a final fact-finding stage that has to precede any potential strike. A deal might be reached during that process.\”

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, \”the union's 40-person bargaining unit unanimously rejected a brand new four-year contract that would have [also] given teachers small annual pay raises, capped the number of charter schools at 130 and eliminated economic layoffs in return for teachers picking up their full, 9 % pension payments.\”

However, according to the Better Government Association's Sarah Karp, \”teachers were offered a pay raise, but there is a big catch: CPS educators would essentially be paying for the salary increase by sacrificing the most experienced members of their teaching force.\” The board's offer required as many as 2,000 of the district's most experienced teachers to voluntarily retire or the agreement would be nullified:

The board was offering $1,500 per year and services information to teachers of retirement age and $750 to aid staff to leave, according to the CTU. If a minimum of 1,500 teachers and 700 other staffers took advantage of the buyout offer, the contract would stand, based on the CPS offer. But, if not enough employees subscribed to early retirement, then CPS could reopen the contract-which union members feared would result in layoffs.

At a press conference , February 2nd, CTU President Karen Lewis said the union voted down the contract offer because, \”It would have pushed out 2,200 of our seasoned, experienced educators, disproportionately impacting African-American and Latino educators. It will lead to ballooning class sizes and the cuts the board proposed were solely out of our pockets.\”

CPS officials project that this plan would save the district around $70 million in a long time three and four, a sum comparable to the salary increases included in the proposals.

The issues under debate in these ongoing negotiations pale when compared to the bigger issues facing Chicago's public schools-issues which cannot be solved by teachers and the school board. The district began the present school year having a balanced budget, but only after assuming it would receive half a billion dollars in new state funding to assist meet its pension-funding burden. However with Illinois's Republican governor and Democratic legislature not able to agree with a financial budget, these funds remain unrealized. Also stalled by the standoff within the capital are discussions regarding how to solve the problem of the seriously underfunded type of pension.

Governor Bruce Rauner has been hesitant to move forward without agreement on \”structural\” reforms that now incorporate a state takeover of Chicago public schools. In comments last week, the Tribune reports, \”The governor-accused his old friend Emanuel of 'kicking the can' and costing taxpayers 'more over time.' Rauner argued that there are only two alternatives for CPS: bankruptcy [followed by a state takeover] or 'massive' tax increases.\” Mayor Emanuel responded in kind, saying that the governor's talk of bankruptcy assuring takeover had caused the district to pay more in interest as it issued new bonds earlier in the week.

The mayor also pushed for changes in their state formula for college funding that will treat Chicago more fairly: \”Chicago students make up 20 % from the student population statewide. Our taxpayers make up 20 percent of the revenue. Yet, we get a little bit shy of 15 percent from the revenue back for education. There are a lot of structural, historical inequities in the system.\”-Martin Levine

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