SOUTH SHORE — Insisting Chicago Public Schools "are going to open up on time," Mayor Rahm Emanuel dismissed strike threats Monday and defended a $250 million property-tax increase as "what's right" to fund education.
Speaking in South Shore, where he touted the completion of a district-wide air-conditioning program this school year, Emanuel assured parents the fall term would start as scheduled after Labor Day.
"They are going to open up on time," Emanuel said of Chicago Public Schools.
As for threats of the Chicago Teachers Union going on strike, he added, "There's a very fair solution that provides the teachers a pay raise, but also secures their pension" in the form of a contract offer on the negotiating table.
"We're going to make the kind of investments we need," Emanuel said of air-conditioning all classrooms. "That also includes a fair contract" for teachers.
Last week, teachers said they were still legally entitled to strike at any time, after calling off a possible walkout in May, but that their union House of Delegates would determine a course of action action after the school year begins Sept. 6. Teachers have thus far resisted a pay raise as insufficient to cover their picking up a 7 percent pension contribution previously paid by CPS.
CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool defended a $500 million increase in the district's line of credit, to $1.55 billion, by saying it would be needed to make necessary interest payments early next year, before new property-tax revenue becomes available in March, and that money would be "immediately repaid."
He also defended almost $1 billion in additional borrowing for capital improvements. All those financial matters, including the property tax hike, will be considered by the Board of Education on Wednesday when it moves to approve the CPS budget for the next fiscal year.
Emanuel likewise defended the added borrowing and additional property taxes.
"Look, nobody likes to raise taxes, but nobody wants to see kids in the middle of a hallway, eating lunch, or in a stairwell or in a closet" taking classes. "So we have to do what's right. I don't want to raise taxes. I'm not eager to do it."
Emanuel insisted his approach was a break with CPS policies of the past, when "they would steal from the future to pay for today's expenses." Instead, he said, the property-tax hike would pay to resolve teacher pension shortfalls, and the borrowing would guarantee day-to-day operations through the upcoming school year.
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