The Chicago Teachers’ Union rejected the Board of Education’s most recent contract proposal, which, according to CPS, included pay raises and met the union’s key demands on charter school expansion and more autonomy for teachers. But according to the teachers’ union, the contract didn’t go far enough, especially as it relates to curtailing the expansion of charter schools and finding a new stable source of revenue to wean the district off of using borrowed money to pay for operations.
At a late afternoon press conference yesterday, forty members of the union’s “Big Bargaining Team” and CTU President Karen Lewis announced their decision to to reject the Board’s contract proposal, because it failed to address the district’s long-term fiscal crisis and falls short of providing services to the city’s “most vulnerable students.”
“There were a lot of things [in the contract] that were great,” CTU President Lewis said, “however, the things that will affect the classrooms the most, especially around the budget, were concerning to people.”
Several CTU members cited the Board’s “chronic spend and borrow practices,” and, on more than one occasion, mentioned the district’s eleventh-hour decision last week to pull its $850 million bond offering as proof the financial industry agrees with their assertions that, “CPS is broke on purpose.”
“There is no guarantee of funding to do the things… the only concrete piece of funding is out of our pockets. That’s what we do know,” Lewis explained, using the example of the Board’s plan to have teachers contribute a greater share of their annual pension contributions.
“The appointed Board of Education continually prioritizes corporate interests over the interests of our students and as a result, we have a legitimate distrust of the Board of Education,” said Dr. Monique Redeaux Smith, a member of the bargaining committee and 11-year teacher at CPS.
The contract, according to Jim Cavallaro, a special education teacher and member of the bargaining team, was contingent on over 2,200 CTU members retiring at the end of this school year, putting “undue pressure on our veteran members to retire before they intend to.”
While CTU has been without a contract since June 30, 2015, negotiations have been ongoing since November 2014. In December 2015, the Board of Education offered a four-year contract that would eliminate the 7% pension pickup, as well as net pay raises in the third and fourth years of the contract. The proposal also included a reduction in standardized testing and decreased paperwork for teachers.
That same month, CTU held a strike authorization vote where 88% of those allowed to vote gave the CTU leadership the authority to call a strike. Under state labor law, CTU can’t strike until mediation and fact-finding have concluded. Yesterday was the first day of fact-finding, and since that must last for a minimum of 105 days, the earliest CTU could strike is late May. But Lewis wouldn’t say if a strike could occur this or next school year.
When asked how the Board could do a better job of establishing trust, Lewis said the union wants three things: for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to “immediately” declare a surplus of TIF money; have the state legislature pass a TIF surplus bill that would divert the extra property tax revenue to CPS; and impose state rules to make it so the charter schools can’t get around a city-imposed charter school cap.
But the Board said it has done a lot of what the union demanded, including step-and-lane raises for seniority and experience, a commitment to restoring a dedicated 0.26% property tax levy for teachers’ pensions, and a commitment to “push for alterations and revisions” to the legislation that authorizes the Illinois Charter Commission.
In a statement released shortly after CTU’s announcement, CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool expressed disappointment in the rejected offer, adding, “CPS remains committed to reaching an agreement with our partners at the CTU that is in the best interest of our students, parents, teachers and city.”