CHICAGO — The Chicago Teachers Union has put Chicago Public Schools on notice: the countdown to a teachers strike has begun.
Over the weekend, an independent fact-finder released a four-year contract plan (read the report below) similar to what CPS offered teachers in January. Lewis had appeared to accept that offer, but it didn't pass muster when she brought it to the union's "big bargaining team."
Though the fact-finding report was jointly commissioned by district officials and union leaders, union President Karen Lewis said Monday that it fell short of several key demands.
Reporter Alex Nitkin on the latest in negotiations between CPS and CTU.
"They want to stand on us, put their boot on our necks and then tell us we have to like it," Lewis told reporters.
In scathing blog post Saturday afternoon, union officials put everyone on notice that a strike was likely. Saturday marked the beginning of a 30-day "cool down" period before they can give their official 10-day strike notice, making late May the earliest possible time for a strike.
"No teacher ever wants to go on strike," Lewis told reporters Monday. "But this board leaves us no choice."
CPS is currently on Spring Break, and Lewis said parents should start thinking now about childcare arrangements.
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool, meanwhile, announced his acceptance of the third-party recommendations Saturday, urging union officials to do the same.
The report was "based on a reasonable deal that included many compromises from both sides," Claypool said, according to a CPS news release. "This report should not be the precursor to a strike — it must be the precursor to a final agreement."
Claypool went on to acknowledge the district's "deteriorating finances," but laid the bulk of the budget crisis at the feet of state lawmakers. Springfield's inability to pass a 2016 budget left a $480 million gap in CPS' revenue stream, and Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed 2017 budget would siphon another $74.4 million from the district.
Claypool immediately followed Lewis' Monday news conference with his own, saying he was "extremely disappointed" in her pronouncement that a strike is likely.
"My hope is [the union] will reconsider," he said. "What we've offered is an incredibly generous deal considering the district is near insolvency."
At an unrelated appearance, Mayor Rahm Emanuel also supported the fact-finder's report, calling the proposal one that is fair to teachers and also students.
"We should take a pause and learn what the fact finder said," Emanuel said. "It's a fair deal for taxpayers, our teachers and most importantly out students."
Emanuel said he understood teachers' desire to protest the state of school funding, but he said that ire should be directed at the state. He said a unified front between the teachers union and the school system would send a clear message to Springfield.
"We have to make sure Springfield doesn't penalize poor kids," he said. "If we come together, that will be a wake up call."
Lewis, though, said the recommended contract fell short of several of the union's hard lines.
Her team had demanded caps on class sizes and a moratorium on charter expansions, she explained in a video posted Saturday. Union leaders also refused the proposal's so-called "pension pickup," which would have them pay more into their own retirement funds.
It's unclear whether that strike would come before the end of the school year or hold off until the fall. Lewis said the strike's timing would have to be worked out during the next month's "cool-down period," when union leaders will meet with parents and teachers.
CPS officials denied rumors Friday that budgetary restraints would force them to shave days off the end of the school year. But in the event of a strike, Claypool said, all bets are off.
"Rather than start the clock for a strike that would cost our children precious days of school at the end of the year," he said, "I would urge that the [union] uses the remaining time on the clock to join us and concentrate on reaching a final deal so that Chicago’s children can continue their extraordinary academic progress."
Claypool said Monday that his negotiating team would be "available 24/7" for more talks, vowing to "do anything we can to avoid a strike."
Lewis on Monday said she's open to further "tweaking," but that district officials haven't budged. Union leaders are hoping to return to the negotiating table on Thursday, she said.
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