By Lauren Fitzpatrick – Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis said Thursday she’d be open to a contract from Chicago Public Schools without annual raises, with a caveat that state legislators and City Hall both need to step up and find other revenue sources for schools.
“We feel that it’s not right to blame just Springfield,” Lewis said. “The blame is in City Hall on the 5th floor for not being consistent or being coherent or having a real plan for funding schools.”
Her comments came at a news conference at CTU headquarters on Thursday, a day after CPS CEO Forrest Claypool suggested that school might not open in the fall without action from the state Capitol.
The teachers are prepared to do their part, Lewis said, by considering a “flat contract.”
“We still want our steps and lanes, and we could live maybe without a 2 or 3 percent raise. How about that?” Lewis said referring to the salary increases teachers get based on how long they’ve taught and their education.
Negotiations to replace the teachers’ contract that expired last June continued Thursday. CPS said they didn’t have enough details from Lewis to consider her suggestion. The CTU said it will set a strike date if the district yanks a pension contribution that’s being negotiated. They’ve rejected a contract proposal that would phase out those contributions as it doled out cost of living raises over four years.
Union leaders had blame for all as they repeated cries for new sources of local revenue that’s needed even if Springfield delivers.
“Mayor Emanuel, show some leadership. Do all you can do to sustain our schools. Do more,” CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey said.
Sharkey called Claypool’s warning about September an “admission of failure,” blasting the mayor and his appointed school board for not pursuing other sources of revenue to stanch a $1 billion budget gap, and announced a June 22 downtown rally for teachers and families to push for more revenue solutions from the city.
The mayor’s office and CPS have said they need Springfield to act first before asking more of Chicago taxpayers in a “grand bargain.”
Sharkey saved some ire as well for the governor, who has opposed Democrat-sponsored measures to give CPS millions more in state aid next year.
“Rauner’s pretty transparent about who he is and whose interests he represents,” Sharkey said. “This is a person who’s been a sworn enemy of the Chicago Public Schools since day one. This is about the people who can have some capacity for leadership and moving things in a different direction actually doing it.”
As for whether the CTU is handing the governor ammunition to keep opposing proposals Republicans have slammed as a “CPS bailout,” Sharkey said, “As far as I’m concerned, the people who are giving him ammunition are ones refusing to come to the table with local solutions.”
Rauner’s office kept pointing fingers at Chicago, in a letter sent to Claypool asking for his support for a schools funding bill introduced by the governor’s office and Republican leadership that keeps CPS funding the same as this year.
“If your answer is yes . . . I would ask you to advocate for its immediate passage so that all schools in Illinois can open in the fall,” wrote Rauner’s secretary of education, Beth Purvis. “If your answer is no, you need to be honest and tell the people of Illinois that you are holding up school funding for the entire state so that Chicago will receive hundreds of millions more than it did last year.”
Claypool said CPS would not support that bill that would have garnered it less than $100 million in additional funding, saying, “It was better than a poke in the eye but it was woefully inadequate and too little too late.”
He said a superintendants from at least a dozen other high-poverty districts statewide are standing together.
“The language [one of them] used is that a CPS bailout is a bailout for Sandoval, Harrisburg, Granite City, East Aurora, and on and on and on,” Claypool said. Rauner “has to recognize that a lot of those areas are areas that have Republican representation, and those schools are in trouble. They cannot withstand further reductions in funding. And he needs to be the governor for all the state and not try to fan regional divisions.”