But Clay­pool says strike not pos­si­ble un­til mid- May

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY TINAS FONDELES Staff Reporter Email: ts­fonde­les@sun­times.com Twit­ter: @ Ti­naS­fon

Chicago Teach­ers Union Pres­i­dent Karen Lewis on Fri­day vowed a one- day “show­down” on April 1 but wouldn’t spec­ify what that meant for teach­ers em­broiled in tense con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions with Chicago Pub­lic Schools.

Lewis’ com­ments ap­peared to walk back stronger lan­guage Thurs­day by the union, which said that amove by Chicago Pub­lic Schools to have teach­ers take three un­paid fur­lough days “all but as­sures” a teacher walk­out on April 1.

On Fri­day, Lewis wouldn’t spell out whether the ac­tion would mean the be­gin­ning of a strike or a mas­sive rally down­town. She said union mem­bers will meet to make that de­ci­sion.

Re­gard­ing the strike, Lewis said, “It’s still on the ta­ble, just like the 7 per­cent pen­sion pay cut is still on the ta­ble.”

“April 1 would be an un­fair­la­bor day of ac­tion,” Lewis said. “It’s a show­down.”

About an hour be­fore Lewis’ re­marks at CTU head­quar­ters, CPS CEO For­rest Clay­pool said CPS is de­lay­ing its plan to stop mak­ing a 7 per­cent con­tri­bu­tion to teach­ers’ pen­sions un­til the fact- find­ing process con­cludes, likely in May. That process is re­quired for teach­ers to go on strike over con­tract is­sues, he said.

Clay­pool said a strike is “not pos­si­ble” un­til the middle of May be­cause of “very clear state laws which dic­tate a process which is not yet com­plete.”

“We want to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to get a deal and to let the process with factfind­ing come to its nat­u­ral con­clu­sion in the hopes that we can reach a fair agree­ment, with a raise for teach­ers, phas­ing out the pen­sion pickup and ad­dress­ing many of the qual­ity- of- life is­sues the teach­ers have told us are im­por­tant,” Clay­pool said.

The union says a strike wouldn’t be about the con­tract. It would be about the on­go­ing is­sue of the pen­sion pickup, which hasn’t been re­solved.

“We do not trust what they say. We only brace our­selves for what they do. Mr. Clay­pool has re­scinded his threat to­day, but he is clear that he will en­force a 7 per­cent pay cut ‘ at a fu­ture date,’” Lewis said. “This is un­wise and not pro­duc­tive to­ward con­clud­ing a la­bor agree­ment — there­fore this un­fair la­bor prac­tice re­mains un­reme­died.”

Lewis said April 1 will mark a “show­down for ev­ery sin­gle teacher, para­pro­fes­sional and clin­i­cian who is ded­i­cated to their craft, who rises each day to pro­vide in­struc­tion and education nur­tur­ing to our stu­dents.”

The fi­nan­cially be­lea­guered school sys­tem is still wait­ing for fi­nan­cial help from Spring­field. In­stead, on Thurs­day, the Illinois House over­whelm­ingly passed a bill to re­place the Chicago Board of Education ap­pointed by Chicago’s mayor with one that’s elected with 21 mem­bers.

“I don’t think the an­swer to Chicago Pub­lic Schools’ fi­nance prob­lems is 21 more politi­cians,” Clay­pool said. “The an­swer is to end the decades of dis­in­vest­ment in our education.”

CPS has strug­gled all year to bal­ance its bud­get and re­cently bor­rowed $ 725 mil­lion in bonds at ex­tremely high in­ter­est rates to keep school doors open for the re­main­der of the year. It has laid off 200 ad­min­is­tra­tive em­ploy­ees and an­other 62 union work­ers in­clud­ing 17 teach­ers ear­lier this week.

The lack of a state bud­get means CPS isn’t get­ting pen­sion help from state leg­is­la­tors to help close a $ 480 mil­lion gap.

Fri­day also marked a state- im­posed dead­line by the state Board of Education for CPS to turn in fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion as the state in­ves­ti­gates the school district’s “fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity” amid Rauner’s de­sire to have the state take over CPS.

Clay­pool said CPS was sub­mit­ting fi­nan­cial in­for­ma­tion to the state Board of Education — num­bers that had been al­ready avail­able pub­licly as part of CPS’ bond doc­u­ments.

In a let­ter to state Board of Education of­fi­cials, Clay­pool and Chicago Board of Education Pres­i­dent Frank Clark wrote: “We hope that th­ese ma­te­ri­als will also clear up un­for­tu­nate mis­un­der­stand­ings about CPS’ fi­nances, par­tic­u­larly the claim that CPS re­ceives more money than the rest of the state through spe­cial block grants.”

The let­ter also seemed to hint that the state has work to do to get its own fi­nan­cial house in or­der.

“In or­der to ad­e­quately pro­ject the in­for­ma­tion you re­quested over the next three years, we need the state to pro­vide us with its pro­jec­tions,” the let­ter says.

On Fri­day, Clay­pool re­it­er­ated that Rauner has no au­thor­ity un­der state law to im­pose over­sight.

“We pointed out re­peat­edly that the gov­er­nor has no au­thor­ity to do that,” Clay­pool said. “Chicago is not part of the statute that the gov­er­nor keeps cit­ing.”


FOR­REST CLAY­POOL, Chicago Pub­lic Schools CEO, on the pos­si­bil­ity of an elected school board


CTU Pres­i­dent Karen Lewis, flanked by union of­fi­cials, said Fri­day that a strike is “still on the ta­ble.”

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