NORTH PARK — The head of the Chicago Teachers Union said Thursday she was cautiously optimistic teachers could reach a deal with the city and avoid a strike.
"Striking is what happens when you can't get to an agreement," Karen Lewis said. "At this point, that's not the way things are looking, but I wouldn't rule it out," she said of whether teachers would walk off the job.
Answering reporters' questions after a speech on social justice at Northeastern Illinois University Thursday, she also ripped Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposal to have the state take over Chicago schools, saying Rauner was "delusional" and his plan was "craziness." She wondered if Rauner's comments were an effort to "sabotage" talks between Chicago Public Schools and teachers.
Before that, she said progress was being made.
"We're doing fairly well," she said, calling herself an optimistic person.
She said "both sides understand that concessions have to be made."
While she said CPS needed to ease its push to take away so-called step and lane salary increases, she acknowledged teachers will have to give some, too.
"I think people understand what dire straits CPS [is in]. We're going to lose certain things in this contract," she said.
Asked whether that included the pension pickup — CPS now pays both the district and teachers' contributions to their pensions — she responded: "Even pension pickup."
Her comments came amid reports that CPS planned a round of layoffs in its central offices Friday.
"Every department at CPS will have to do more with less," CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said in a statement published by NBC5.
CPS said the number of layoffs would be revealed Friday.
At NEIU, where Lewis earned a master's degree in inner-city studies, she brushed off the Republicans' proposal to have the state take control of CPS away from the city.
It's "not going to happen," she said of Rauner's proposal. "He's delusional. How are you goin to put your nose in someone else's business when your own is raggedy. He needs to clean his own house ... sit down before he breaks something."
She accused Rauner of trying to sabotage progress in CPS in contract talks and as the district looks to sell bonds to fund operations.
"Here he comes at this moment and time ... why is he talking this craziness right now?" she asked.
Republican legislative leaders state Rep. Jim Durkin (Western Springs) and state Sen. Christine Radogno (Lemont) unveiled the proposals Wednesday at the Thompson Center. Radogno called the plan "a lifeline" amid CPS' "abysmal" finances.
They said they had arrived at that proposal through a mutual decision with Rauner, who declared his support later Wednesday.
Rauner insisted the proposal was not "dead on arrival" in Springfield, although Democratic leaders pronounced it just that.
CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool rejected the idea out of hand, calling it a "distraction" and "frankly, a sideshow."
"The governor is defending a school funding system that is separate but unequal," Claypool said. "Our children are facing systematic discrimination. CPS represents 20 percent of state enrollment, but gets just 15 percent of state funding, even though 86 percent of our children live in poverty.
"The missing 5 percent represents nearly $500 million, the exact amount of our budget gap," he added. "Our children's futures are just as important as those in the suburbs and Downstate. But the state does not value them equally."
Rauner said the state can stand up to the teachers union.
"We can take on the teachers' union in Chicago," he said, adding, "The mayor is afraid of them."
"I believe we'll have the votes," Rauner said Thursday on the proposal for the state Board of Education to take control of CPS unveiled the day before."
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