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War Of Words Heats Up Between Chicago Public Schools And Teachers Union

By aaroncynic in News on Aug 10, 2016 7:21PM

CTU President Karen Lewis and Vice President Jesse Sharkey at a press conference on March 23, 2016. (Photo by Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist)
Both the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools officials are ratcheting up their rhetoric after CPS released its proposed budget Monday.

In a Tuesday meeting with the Tribune’s Editorial Board, Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool said that teachers would have to accept the contract they rejected earlier this year or classrooms would face cuts.

"The alternative is cuts to the classroom,” Claypool told the Editorial Board. "We don't believe it's the right thing to do, and we're hopeful that upon reflection the teachers union will understand that's not the right thing to do either."

The district’s proposed $5.4 billion budget already contains more than $200 million in cuts. It also relies heavily on the State of Illinois coming through on its promise to cover some pension costs, and the CTU accepting a contract it already rejected.

The union rejected a contract in January because the district wanted to eliminate its 7 percent pension pickup. But the district’s proposed budget assumes that teachers will walk back the rejection and take the offer. Lewis however, has said otherwise.

"If the Board of Education imposes a 7 percent slash in our salaries, we will move to strike,” she said at a Monday press conference.

Claypool has said that the only entity involved in the district’s fiscal woes has been the union. He’s argued that the state has agreed to put up money, that CPS has made additional cuts and that the City of Chicago is plunking down extra tax revenue.

"That leaves only the teachers' union as the obstacle to, you know, protecting our classrooms,” Claypool said.

On Monday though, Lewis said that teachers were already giving all they could:

“And, though educators have already returned about $2 billion in salary and benefits to the district, with $100 million being returned this year alone, we are being asked to give more when there is nothing left to give. Understand that budget cuts impact students; they include cuts to programming, staffing and services.”

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said that putting the blame on teachers was “hypocritical and unacceptable.”

"I think if he wants to take a look at who's been doing the cutting and who's responsible for the cutting, he should look in the mirror," said Sharkey.

The potential of another strike means that both sides will continue to heat up the war of words between them. But while officials are trying to force all of the blame on the teachers, the oft used “CPS is broke on purpose” retort from the union has merit. The Sun-Times reports that some central office departments are seeing increases in both their budgets and staff, and it appears that some new departments have been created.

And while the revenue from Emanuel’s massive property tax hike is certainly needed, that seems to be one of the only revenue streams either he or the district have been willing to entertain. While Claypool says “there is no pot of gold,” he seems to be leaving out that there is at least some money available if the city were to implement any number of progressive tax solutions that have been floating around for years, along with the city’s TIF slush fund.

While many of those ideas have been written off at one time or another, usually because they hit the wealthiest (who happen to be a big donor base) hardest, they’re worth seriously considering. Eventually, there might not be anything left to cut.