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Chicago Teachers Strike Threats Resurface After CPS Announces New Budget

By  Ted Cox and Alex Nitkin | August 8, 2016 2:34pm | Updated on August 8, 2016 4:07pm

 CPS announced $232 million in budget cuts Monday.
CPS announced $232 million in budget cuts Monday.
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THE LOOP — Chicago Public Schools said Monday it plans to cut $232 million in spending in its budget for the 2017 fiscal year.

Saying it was "balanced without gimmicks ... or operational borrowing," CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool said it "puts the district on a path toward fiscal stability while protecting classrooms so Chicago’s students can continue their remarkable gains."

Yet the cuts could come at a potential cost in relations with the Chicago Teachers Union, as it's based on a contract offer rejected by its bargaining team in January.

"That's a very stale document," said union President Karen Lewis. "If it didn't fly in January, why do they think it would fly now?"

 CPS CEO Forrest Claypool urged teachers to accept the budget and a new contract based on a spirit of shared sacrifice.
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool urged teachers to accept the budget and a new contract based on a spirit of shared sacrifice.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Lewis dismissed Claypool's pledge of a budget with "no gimmicks," saying, "Was his mouth moving when he said it?"

Claypool insisted that deal, which swaps "a healthy net raise" in exchange for teachers making an additional 7 percent pension contribution, now had assurances for funding teachers said it lacked earlier in the year. He pointed to additional state education funding, saying he expected that to be extended beyond this year's stopgap state budget, and an extra $250 million in Chicago property taxes passed along as part of that deal in the General Assembly.

He urged teachers to accept such a deal in a spirit of shared sacrifice, pointing to "Chicago taxpayers sacrificing for teacher pensions."

"We need teachers to be part of the solution," he said.

Yet Lewis said any deal that ends the district's pension pickup and requires teachers to pay it could lead to a strike.

"Our members have been very clear about that," Lewis said. "They've been clear about that since last year. They are very upset, and they do not want to work for less. And nobody should expect them to. And that's the thing that I don't understand. Where's this mentality that 'Springfield did this and the board did that, so now it's your turn to work harder and longer, and get less for it?' I think that's unreasonable to even ask.

"We have not recovered from that 4 percent pay raise they took away in 2011," Lewis added. "And last year we got ... no raise, no nothing. So they've already saved money on our backs. Why are they coming back and asking for more? We're saying no to that. They got a free pass ... they got a hall pass last year. We're not going to do that again this year."

Lewis challenged, "We do not know if Mayor Emanuel can stand another teacher strike."

The budget framework announced Monday imposed cuts made earlier this year and extended them over the next school year. Individual schools already began to feel the pinch last month when their budgets were announced, with what amounted to $140 million in cuts. Monday's budget includes cuts at the district level.

Although Claypool pledged to minimize cuts in July after the General Assembly cracked a budget impasse and came through with a new round of education funding to cover the rest of the calendar year, CPS nonetheless announced the layoffs of 1,000 teachers and other staff last week, even as the district insisted many of those teachers would be rehired at other schools.

Lewis, however, was dubious, saying the teacher layoffs, half of which are tenured, were an attempt to replace experienced teachers "with teachers who are brand new to the system or who they won't have to pay as much."

But Claypool called arguments against the budget based on those cuts "a red herring," in that the district has "twice as many vacancies as layoffs" for teachers, many of whom will be rehired at other schools.

"We are going to negotiate in good faith, and we have two objectives," Claypool said, citing those as protecting teacher jobs and protecting students in classrooms. "We believe we can do both," he added.

"Our focus must be on the remarkable progress our students are making — from record ACT scores, graduation rates and college attendance to reduced disciplinary measures, and stabilizing our finances means that progress can continue," Claypool said. "We’re grateful for the assistance of our leaders in Springfield, as well as the $250 million in additional taxes Chicago homeowners will be making to support teachers’ pensions.

"With this budget, we'll move the district on to stronger footing and stand ready to partner with leaders in Springfield to advance long-term education funding reform and pension equity," he added.

Last week, the union criticized the 1,000 layoffs, with a spokeswoman calling the move "no way to run a 21st-century school district."

Teachers called off a threatened strike in May, as it would have fallen right at the end of the last school year, but that threat has remained on the table as negotiations have continued on a new contract. Union leaders halted strike talk with the proviso that "we are focused on trying to get revenue," in the words of Vice President Jesse Sharkey. "We have to watch that play out," he said at the time, but early indications were the union was not likely to be placated with Monday's budget release.

The union and grassroots education groups have backed a package of proposals for added education funding put forth in the City Council. That included a bid to declare a surplus in Tax Increment Finance district funds, to be redistributed to CPS, as well as hiking the tax on business equipment rentals and reinstating the corporate head tax on employees eliminated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

They've suggested the proposals could raise an additional $400 million, or about $1,000 per pupil in the district's student-based budgeting formula.

Yet Claypool all but rejected those proposals. He said the budget includes some additional TIF funds, but otherwise "we are going with the revenue streams we have available to us."

Monday's release laid out a framework for CPS' 2017 budget, which will be released to the public in mid-month ahead of expected approval by the Board of Education Aug. 24.

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