CPS CEO Forrest Claypool says he can promise no mid-year layoffs if the teachers union can agree to a four-year deal by the end of January. Credit: Photo by Max Herman

A day after the Chicago Teachers Union announced that its members had overwhelmingly authorized a strike, district leaders put their latest contract offer on the public table.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool told reporters in a media call today that he wants a four-year deal that phases out the so-called pension pickup —  in which CPS pays 7 of the 9 percent union members are required to pay into their pension — and replaces it with gradual pay raises that he says would result in a “net pay increase.”

Claypool says he’s willing to give in to some of the union’s non-economic asks, including a reduction in standardized testing and teacher paperwork, more autonomy in grading and even some changes to teacher evaluations. District and city officials previously had said they  would not bend on how some layoffs are determined based on teacher evaluations — stands that resulted in a breakdown in negotiations last August.

Also on the table: incentives for early retirement. As for the district’s position on the steps-and-lanes pay structure, Claypool would not comment.

If the two sides reach a deal within six weeks, Claypool promises no layoffs in the second semester, although there could still be layoffs in the summer or later down the line. If no deal is reached, there will be mid-year layoffs.

“This would protect the classrooms from disruptive midyear cuts,” said Claypool, who personally presented the contract proposal to the union during negotiations on Monday.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey called the district’s proposal “significant” but said he was dismayed that Claypool made details of the proposal public before the union’s  full bargaining team had an opportunity to digest it.*

Sharkey says he suspects district leaders told reporters about their proposal in order to “create a talking point, where if they lay off teachers, they can blame the union. Which is ridiculous because they’re the ones with the $480 million budget deficit for the second half of the year.”

(In August the Board of Education approved an operating budget that relied on $480 million in aid from the state that has yet to materialize.)

For now, Sharkey says, the union’s “big bargaining team” needs to regroup and seriously study the district’s new proposal before heading into another contract negotiation session. And typically, he adds, negotiations taper down around the holidays.

Other plans to cut costs

Claypool repeatedly declined to go into details about the contract proposal to avoid “bargaining in public,” but he said he wanted the public to “understand the general framework” of negotiations.

During the press call, Claypool gave a broad outline of some other plans to cut costs. Among them: eliminating about one-third of the 1,400 or so positions in Central Office before the end of January, which he says should save about $50 million. He also said the district can save about $100 million by “finding efficiencies” in other parts of the district, such as procurement or transportation logistics, although he declined to go into details.

But even with administrative cuts and an agreement from the union, the district would still  have to borrow more money to stay afloat — unless lawmakers in Springfield agree to overhaul the state’s education funding formulas and give Chicago what Claypool has called its “fair share.” Already on Wednesday, the Board of Education plans to vote on recommendations to increase its short-term line of credit by $130 million, and issue another $120 million in bonds.

“If Springfield doesn’t act … borrowing has always been part of the solution,” Claypool said.

The CEO also said he is asking the mayor and City Council to support a dedicated property tax levy to help pay for teacher pension obligations.

*This story was updated at 6:40 p.m. on Dec. 15 to include comments from an interview with Jesse Sharkey.

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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