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Mayor's Office Negotiating Directly With Teachers Union To Avoid Strike

By Ted Cox | September 29, 2016 12:34pm | Updated on September 29, 2016 5:46pm
 Chicago teachers picket during a one-day strike on April 1, 2016.
Chicago teachers picket during a one-day strike on April 1, 2016.
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Getty Images/Joshua Lott

CITY HALL — Mayor Rahm Emanuel is taking a direct hand in negotiating with the Chicago Teachers Union to avert a strike, according to aldermen, who hoped for a compromise Thursday even as they prepared for the worst.

"As far as I know, right now today teachers are sitting down with some folks from the Mayor's Office and with Ald. [George] Cardenas," said Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th).

Union officials confirmed Thursday teachers are in talks with the Emanuel administration.

According to Burnett, they're discussing ways to make surplus Tax Increment Finance funds available to Chicago Public Schools to help reach a compromise on contract talks after teachers set an Oct. 11 strike date Wednesday.

 Ald. Raymond Lopez is preparing for the worst on a possible teacher strike.
Ald. Raymond Lopez is preparing for the worst on a possible teacher strike.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

The union formally delivered its notice to the Board of Education Thursday that it would begin a strike Oct. 11.

"Teachers already struggle to make ends meet, and go above and beyond by doing things like paying for classroom supplies out of pocket, so they sacrifice daily to protect their students and classrooms,” said union President Karen Lewis. “It’s time for the people who say they care about education, and who helped create these problems, to fund our schools and propose solutions which don’t hurt our kids even more."

Teachers have repeatedly called on the mayor to get in the game and offer new sources of revenue to pay for public education.

Yet Burnett said TIFs offered no easy solution to the impasse, which has seen teachers work without a contract since June 2015. It's been a contentious issue in the City Council.

"Unfortunately, that would take away from a lot of projects a lot of folks have planned already," Burnett said. "We are working to give up some TIF money, but we can't fund that whole bill."

Burnett called for a spirit of compromise to prevail, especially after Emanuel endorsed the Board of Education increasing property taxes $250 million this summer.

"In order to make things work in a society like this, everybody has to give in right now," Burnett said. "I'm hoping we can resolve it. God knows we don't need a strike. Parents have to be concerned about losing their pay and possibly their jobs if they can't find a babysitter."

That issue was the primary concern for Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th), who didn't hold out as much hope for a resolution.

"I think right now the teachers and CTU have made up their mind about going on strike," Lopez said. "Now our efforts as aldermen need to focus on what we can do with our kids once they go out on strike."

CPS set "contingency sites" for the teachers' one-day walkout earlier this year on April 1, and Lopez expected much the same for a strike, however long.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool sent home a letter to parents Thursday and said principals would have more information on contingency plans for a strike next week. "We know that a strike would challenge our students and families," he said, "and we remain committed to reaching a solution at the bargaining table."

"I want to make sure that our libraries, our parks, even our churches are ready to go," Lopez said. "In my neighborhood, if I have 2,000 kids on the street with nothing to do, that's going to put us in a very bad spot."

"All of us have to pitch in to help," Burnett said. "I would even be willing to allow my office to be a place where kids can go if need be."

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