After rejecting an independent fact finder’s report over the weekend on the stalled contract negotiation between its members and the school district, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis repeated her demands for more concessions and threatened to strike after a state-mandated 30 day cooling off period if Chicago Public Schools does not comply. All while CPS CEO Forrest Claypool reiterated the bargaining terms outlined in the fact finder’s report and urged ratification, so the district can focus on finding money to pay its bills.
On Monday, Lewis called the fact finder’s report “dead on arrival,” because despite across the board raises for its members, which she says don’t factor the added pension contributions members will be forced to pay, the contract doesn’t go far enough to close what Lewis described as “devastating loopholes.”
“The biggest drivers for the district’s fiscal crisis are charter expansion and debt service,” Lewis told reporters at CTU headquarters in downtown Chicago. She said she wants enforceable class-size limits, a “real” charter moratorium, an end to school closings and consolidations, a dedicated pension levy, and a commitment to “progressive revenue” solutions in Springfield.
“CPS is searching for cash under rocks, seat cushions and in their uncle’s pants pocket,” Lewis went on to say. “Instead of robbing Peter to pay Paul, the Board should work aggressively to fight for progressive, long-term revenue options in order to stabilize the school district and protect public education in our city.”
The union has 27 days left (as of today) in a state-mandated “cooling off period” before it can legally authorize a strike. And to call a strike, the union must provide 10 days notice. Asked if this could impact the end of the 2016 school year or if the union plans to strike next fall, Lewis said, “I’m not giving CPS my playbook,” adding that the union needs time to regroup and discuss next steps.
Meanwhile, Claypool, in a separate availability with reporters held less than an hour after Lewis’, said that the deal on the table–the contract the district gave CTU leadership back in January–is the best contract the union will get given the district’s “unprecedented” financial crisis. The district is facing a $1 billion deficit and expects to finish this school year with barely enough cash on hand to cover two payroll days.
“We offered an incredibly generous deal given the fact that the district is near insolvency,” CPS CEO Claypool told reporters, saying he was “perplexed” the that the rank and file members of the union weren’t given the opportunity to vote on the contract the leadership had earlier approved.
“It’s sort of an Alice in Wonderland world within the CTU these days,” he added, saying he was available around the clock to negotiate. Claypool used the Alice in Wonderland analogy when referring to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s school budget proposal last week. Lewis, on the other hand, said “we’re too old for 24/7 negotiations,” and asked for time to talk with members to get a sense of what teachers want.
”We’re not going to kill ourselves going over the same stuff,” Lewis said. “What we’re going to try to do is meet on Thursdays like we have been. Try to find where other areas to close these loopholes.”
Pressed to explain the likelihood of a strike, Lewis said “100 percent today,” but that could go down to “95 percent” next week.
The contract proposal on the table would phase out the 7% pension pickup the district pays on behalf of teachers by 2017, adds an 8.75% cost of living adjustment (COLA) and step and lane increases, a retirement incentive, and includes classroom changes regarding testing and paperwork, among other items.
Earlier this year, CTU President Lewis called that contract proposal a “serious offer” and forwarded it to the union’s Big Bargaining Team for approval. The 40-member bargaining team unanimously rejected the offer on February 1st, prompting an independent arbitrator to commence fact-finding.
Both sides do however agree that Springfield and, more specifically, Gov. Rauner are to blame for the district’s budget gap.
“We are together on [lobbying in Springfield]. We are not together on the silly contract proposal,” Lewis explained. CTU plans to go to the state capitol on Wednesday to lobby on behalf of a proposed millionaires tax and a bill that would make state education funding a priority.
Somewhat echoing that sentiment, CPS CEO Claypool urged the union to agree to the contract, so they both could join “hand in hand in Springfield.”
The district is expected to unveil its budget next month for the 2016-2017 school year. It will be balanced, Claypool said, adding that it will rely heavily on borrowed money. “We have to secure a new line of credit to stay solvent,” he said. “We can’t pay for anything absent a line of credit.”