RIVER NORTH — The Chicago Teachers Union said Thursday that talks had broken off in its bid to negotiate a new one-year contract with the School Board.
"We didn't even deal with finances today," CTU President Karen Lewis said in a news conference at CTU Headquarters in the Merchandise Mart, adding that talks had reached an impasse over "non-economic issues."
According to Lewis, the two sides had agreed Chicago Public Schools would pick up the teachers' pension payments at the existing level, after school officials had threatened to impose what amounted to a 7 percent cut by asking teachers to pick up more of their pension payments.
Yet she said teachers had sought concessions on "things that would make this 0 percent [increase] feel better," such as autonomy over grading practices, reduced standardized testing and smaller class sizes.
"We'd be willing to consider no general increase, but only if that's tied to things that make schools better," Lewis said.
According to CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey, they were told at the bargaining table that CPS "won't compromise" on those issues. At that point, he said, with nothing to negotiate, talks broke off.
"Their bargaining rhetoric is as empty as their bank accounts," Lewis added.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel sought to find a silver lining in the two sides' few points of agreement, issuing a statement saying: "We are encouraged that both sides finally acknowledge that CPS is in a fiscal crisis and lacks the resources to provide additional compensation, and that is a step in the right direction."
He urged CTU leadership to "come back to the bargaining table," adding, "After years of our academic gains, now is not the time to shortchange our children by eliminating evaluations for tens of thousands of employees, or lowering teachers’ performance standards."
Sharkey lashed back in a response, saying, "The mayor’s statement is outrageous with no basis in fact. Teachers and other school employees have never asked for less accountability or the elimination of evaluation. He is highly misinformed. His comment is designed to cover up his role in running the school district into the ground.
"The mayor is the one who made the appointments of people who have made poor fiscal decisions that have led to lowered bond ratings and billion dollar deficits," Sharkey added. "We hope this statement from the mayor does not signal he’s removed his fuzzy sweater and is back to his old ways of trying to bully public school teachers into an agreement that does nothing to help schoolchildren. Apparently, he’s lost his cool."
Lewis and Sharkey said teachers had also been faced with the possible loss of 3,000 jobs. They declined to speculate on the possibility of a strike, but the current contract expires Tuesday.
Lewis and Sharkey also said CPS was resistant to "progressive" ideas to increase revenue. They've previously mentioned a tax on financial transactions and reforms to the tax code.
Earlier this year, the School Board declined to exercise an option on an additional year on the contract negotiated to end the 2012 teacher strike, saying it didn't have the money to pay the called-for 3 percent raise with a $1.1 billion deficit brought on largely by overdue pension payments.
Lewis and Sharkey said Thursday they were sympathetic to the district's financial straits, but that CPS' refusal to compromise on other "non-economic" issues was "the straw that broke the camel's back."
Parent groups have decried the lack of information on talks and have said CPS should "come clean" on how negotiations are proceeding.
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