ARCHER HEIGHTS — The head of Chicago Public Schools remained hopeful on the first day of classes that the district can avert a teacher strike this fall.
"We have a very generous proposal on the table," CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool said. Yet he immediately qualified the size of that raise, saying it was "as generous a raise as possible given the resources the district has."
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey, however, called it "inaccurate" to depict the contract offer as "generous."
"They're trying to lock into place cuts that are deeply hurtful to children," Sharkey said. "It's not just cuts to pay, it's cuts to pay and cuts to staffing, cuts to special education, cuts to elementary-school sports. It just seems that everything is being cut."
Sharkey cast the main issue not as simply a pay increase, but as paying to preserve schools and education.
"We're looking for the contract to address the institution of public education in this city," he said.
The union has repeatedly accused CPS of being "broke on purpose" to minimize pay increases. It has also suggested a strike was possible as early as mid-October after its House of Delegates was to meet this week.
Sharkey said he expected that meeting of 800 union members to include a "discussion of where we're at" in contract talks, as well as "what we need to do going forward."
"The talks will intensify this week," Claypool said, appearing on the first day of school at Edwards Elementary on the Southwest Side. "We're going to be there every single day that the teachers are willing to talk."
Sharkey echoed that, saying, "I expect talks will intensify over the next couple weeks" and that the start of school "puts pressure on both sides to get issues resolved." He said the union had set the goal of making progress on a new contract by October, or else strike talk will intensify.
Teachers have resisted paying a 7 percent pension obligation that CPS has previously paid for them as part of an earlier contract trade-off made in the early '80s.
Claypool has said the district is trying to offer a raise package to balance out that payment and more.
"Our teachers do great work. We've seen the results," he said. "And we want to be as generous as we can. We hope that teachers will say yes to the healthy raise we have on the table."
Yet Sharkey insisted teachers wouldn't actually see a rise in pay until the fourth year of the deal CPS is proposing.
"We're always hopeful," Sharkey said. "I really think that this is one that requires political will."
Sharkey pointed to an estimated $500 million surplus in citywide Tax Increment Finance district funds, and said Mayor Rahm Emanuel's potential release of that money could be the key to providing the additional revenue CPS needs.
"If Rahm does not want to do that," Sharkey said, "then it's going to be a hard fall."
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