CPS has pulled back from its offer of a one-year contract extension that would have retained the so-called “pension pick-up” and barred the opening of any new charter schools during that period without union approval.

Instead, CPS is now seeking a multi-year deal that would phase out its longstanding agreement to pick up 7 of the 9 percent educators pay toward their pensions.

Eliminating the pension pick-up would “force us into a strike,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. (Given all the steps required for the CTU to strike, a walkout could not take place until winter, at the earliest.)

“We are concerned because we were very close to finalizing something,” Lewis said at a press conference on Friday. “That rug was pulled out from under us and the district has mischaracterized what led to their rescinding the offer — and why is beyond strange to me.”

Union officials said they had entered a regularly scheduled bargaining session on Thursday with the intention of working on issues related to teacher evaluations and layoff order — something Lewis had spoken with Mayor Rahm Emanuel about over the weekend. But then CPS negotiators abruptly pulled out of the negotiations, according to the union.

In a statement, CPS officials did not directly address the issue of the pension pickup — part of a labor agreement reached in the 1980s, in lieu of a pay increase. But getting rid of that benefit may help bolster the cash-strapped district’s petition for pension relief in Springfield.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has said he’ll help push through legislation to help CPS deal with its pension obligations, but only if the city will support some of his efforts to limit unions’ collective bargaining rights.

In a statement, CPS officials said they will continue to negotiate in good faith to “reach an agreement on a broader and longer contract that is beneficial for our children, their teachers, the taxpayers and the entire system. However, we will not roll back standards for teacher performance, and we will make sure that our highest-performing teachers can continue to serve in classrooms.”

The district says the reason for its abrupt reversal is that it could not agree with a CTU proposal to group some tenured teachers rated as “developing” with those rated as “proficient” or “excellent” for the purpose of layoffs. (Under the former contract, which expired at the end of June, “proficient” and “excellent” teachers are the last to be laid off and then it is done by seniority.)

“In our view, these proposals would irreparably undermine the effectiveness of our evaluation system,” CPS attorneys Joseph Moriarty and James Franczek Jr. wrote in a letter dated Thursday, after a regularly scheduled negotiation session. (See CTU’s letter in response.)

“Obviously, this process can always be improved, but we strongly believe it would be a serious mistake to revert to a system where over 90 percent of the tenured teachers would be laid off strictly by seniority, rather than by their ability and effectiveness in the classroom,” the CPS attorneys wrote.

But CTU attorney Robert Bloch says that CPS is using the issue of evaluations and layoffs as an “excuse” to walk away from a contract that had been nearly complete. He said the CTU had already agreed on no pay raises as part of a one-year contract extension. (The previous contract expired on June 30.)

In addition, Bloch pointed out that the district had agreed in a one-page “side letter” to the bargaining agreement that included promises not to file for bankruptcy, approve any new charter schools, close any neighborhood schools, or conduct any turnarounds for the duration of the contract.

“To have them back away from all of that is significant,” Bloch said. “CPS is saying we we’re at impasse, which is just baloney. We were just down to a couple of issues, [evaluations and layoffs] being one of them. It just happened to be where we were at on the day when CPS walked out.”

According to a copy of the tentative agreement that CTU shared with reporters, both parties had agreed to a number of items, in addition to no raises outside of the step-and-lane system, and the continuation of the pension pickup. Other agreements included:

  • A committee of CPS and union representatives would review the district’s health care programs for employees and make recommendations on cost savings by December 2015.
  • The district and union would form a joint task force to develop guidelines regarding best grading practices. Teachers would be able to decide on the number, type and frequency of assignments and tests used to determine grades.
  • Another committee would make recommendations on the All Means All pilot program, which uses the student-based budgeting system for special education. WBEZ reported on this pilot program last week.

The union and district are scheduled to continue negotiations next Thursday. In addition, CPS is expected to release its 2015-2016 budget early next week. Last month the district released partial school-level budgets that were based on a $500  million in yet-to-materialize relief from Springfield.

Melissa Sanchez is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email her at msanchez@chicagoreporter.com and follow her on Twitter at @msanchezMIA.

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