THE LOOP — Thousands of teachers and their supporters rallied in the financial district Thursday evening to protest cuts proposed by Chicago Public Schools and money lost to banks in what they said were "toxic" financial investments.
Protesters first formed a double picket line along the corner offices of Bank of America at 135 S. LaSalle St., then soon extended the picket line down the street and around the block.
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey called it "a show of force."
"Teachers around the city are united right now," Sharkey said. "Schools can't keep being the last priority. You can fund the Riverwalk, the DePaul arena, the Lucas Museum." Yet he quickly added that funding for schools was falling short.
"We have to make a choice," said union President Karen Lewis. "Banks or schools."
At least 12 teachers were taken into custody, ABC7 News reported.
Later, the teachers marched down Congress chanting "Save our schools," ABC-7 News reported.
Chanting protesters added Gov. Bruce Rauner to Mayor Rahm Emanuel as those who've "got to go." Another call-and-response chant went: "How do you fix the deficit? Tax, tax, tax the rich."
Teachers have drawn attention to hundreds of millions lost to banks in what they call "toxic interest-rate swaps," with Sharkey saying Wednesday Bank of America had profited from $40 million in early termination fees assessed against CPS just this year.
Lewis said the school district is in "financial chaos" after borrowing an additional $725 million at high interest rates on the bond market Wednesday. She projected that a threatened new deal with teachers imposed by CPS this week would cost an individual teacher up to $7,000 a year, much of that from the end of the so-called pension pickup in which the district previously paid 7 percentage points of the 9 percent in salary teachers are obliged to contribute to their own pensions.
"It's pretty big," Lewis said. "It's a big cut."
"That's what it is. It's a pay cut," Sharkey insisted.
Teachers took other shots at Gov. Rauner, who has threatened to take over the district and have it declare bankruptcy. One signed showed Rauner next to a picture of a cartoon Montgomery Burns, the evil owner of the nuclear power plant in "The Simpsons."
Lewis said teachers would nonetheless return to the bargaining table Friday, and CPS echoed that.
"Our goal remains the same: reaching an agreement that protects our children while treating teachers fairly," said CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner. "We know our work is not finished, and we are committed to building a mutually respectful relationship with the CTU and working at the bargaining table around the clock so Chicago children can remain in the classroom.
"In the meantime, because of our dire financial circumstances, we must proceed forward with painful cuts in the absence of an agreement," Bittner added. "We are hopeful we can rescind these cuts by swiftly reaching an agreement."
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