Chicago teach­ers, of­fi­cials look to cir­cum­vent strike

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Chicago teach­ers and of­fi­cials in the na­tion’s third-largest school district will hap­pen through­out the week­end in hopes of reach­ing a deal to avert a strike. The Chicago Teach­ers Union has said its mem­bers are pre­pared to stop in­struc­tion for about 400,000 stu­dents as early as Tues­day morn­ing for its sec­ond ma­jor strike since 2012, when teach­ers were out for seven school days. At is­sue dur­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions, which have stretched into a sec­ond year, are pen­sion con­tri­bu­tions, pay raises, staffing lev­els and class­room fund­ing.

Union lead­ers say teach­ers “do not want to strike, but are con­cerned about threats to re­duce their pay and ben­e­fits, as well as the over­all im­pact of school-based cuts on their stu­dents,” while Chicago Pub­lic Schools CEO For­rest Clay­pool has said teach­ers de­serve a raise but that the district is fac­ing mas­sive fi­nan­cial chal­lenges. Here’s a look at the sit­u­a­tion:

The cash-strapped school district wants to phase out the decades-old prac­tice of pay­ing most of teach­ers’ pen­sion con­tri­bu­tions, re­plac­ing it with a to­tal base wage in­crease in a four-year con­tract. The union wants the district to keep up the pen­sion pay­ments and seeks raises at the end of a three-year con­tract.

The district, which has of­fered other “qual­ity of life” changes such as less pa­per­work, also wants teach­ers to pay more for ris­ing health care costs. Union Pres­i­dent Karen Lewis said it amounts to an over­all pay cut at a time when teach­ers are strug­gling to make ends meet and to do their jobs, given that schools have lost some spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion re­sources and li­brar­i­ans due to bud­get cuts. Plus, the district ended au­to­matic pay raises for ex­pe­ri­ence and ed­u­ca­tion last year. The bar­gain­ing unit of the union - rep­re­sent­ing about 28,000 mem­bers - re­jected the district’s last of­fer in Fe­bru­ary.

The threat of a strike is set against per­ilous fi­nan­cial prob­lems for Chicago’s pub­lic schools as well as the state of Illi­nois. The district an­nounced lay­offs Monday for about 250 teach­ers and staff due to a larger-than-an­tic­i­pated drop in en­roll­ment. Credit rat­ing agen­cies have placed the district at “junk” sta­tus, or be­low in­vest­ment grade, while its $5.4 bil­lion bud­get re­lies on in­creased prop­erty taxes, bor­row­ing and $215 mil­lion in state fund­ing.

But the state fund­ing is con­tin­gent on a wider pen­sion over­haul that must be ap­proved by state law­mak­ers, who are dead­locked over the bud­get with Repub­li­can Gov. Bruce Rauner. The Repub­li­can also has pushed to curb union power, sug­gested the district file for bank­ruptcy and un­suc­cess­fully at­tempted a state takeover of the district’s fi­nances.

Where do the kids go dur­ing a strike?

All schools will be open dur­ing nor­mal hours and staffed by non-union em­ploy­ees to pro­vide on­line learn­ing, phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion and arts and crafts. Classes and ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties will be can­celed, but free break­fast and lunch will be pro­vided to stu­dents who need them. Safe Pas­sage routes, which are staffed by adults to help kids get to and from school safely, will op­er­ate as usual.

The district also has part­nered with li­braries, the park district and “Safe Haven” lo­ca­tions, such as churches, that will pro­vide child care.

Other fac­tors

The 2012 strike was the first teacher walkout in 25 years and tied to eval­u­a­tions, class­room con­di­tions and job se­cu­rity. Par­ents and com­mu­nity lead­ers were largely sup­port­ive then, but it’s un­clear whether the sen­ti­ment will stick this year. Plus, the threat of a strike comes as Chicago res­i­dents have seen ma­jor in­creases in prop­erty taxes and other fees, and an uptick in street vi­o­lence.

“It will be a dif­fi­cult strike,” Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Chicago pro­fes­sor and for­mer al­der­man Dick Simp­son said. “I’m not sure that any­one wants to play it all the way out.” One thing is clear: There’s a dif­fer­ent tone in ne­go­ti­a­tions. In 2012, the out­spo­ken Lewis and Mayor Rahm Emanuel were often at odds. Emanuel had can­celed a pay raise, and Lewis dubbed him “the mur­der mayor” be­cause of city vi­o­lence, briefly con­sid­er­ing chal­leng­ing him in the 2015 mayor’s race. More re­cently, Lewis has been al­most com­pli­men­tary, say­ing Emanuel’s job is “im­pos­si­ble” and their re­la­tion­ship now “re­spect­ful.” —AP

SPRING­FIELD: In this Sept 26, 2016 file photo, Illi­nois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at the Illi­nois State Capi­tol. —AP

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