The district is asking for a 7-percent pay cut from teachers and other staff. (File photo) Credit: Photo: Atomazul/Shutterstock

After rejecting nearly every one of the Chicago Teachers Union’s contract proposals, CPS has asked teachers and other union members to take 7-percent pay cuts, union officials say.

With this aggressive first proposal, CPS is trying to shift its burden of pension pick-up costs to employees.

Even so, the potential cost savings wouldn’t be enough to close next year’s reported $1.1 billion budget deficit. This year, for example, CPS budgeted $134 million for its portion of required teacher pension contributions, and another $40 million for other employees’ contributions.

Still, CTU President Karen Lewis said she wasn’t buying the district’s claims of austerity.

“Once again, the Board has created a fiscal crisis in order to justify its continued attack on our classrooms and communities. CPS is broke on purpose,” she said in a statement. “By citing its so-called $1.5 billion deficit, the mayor is proposing a reduction in teaching staff which will result in larger class sizes and the loss of teaching positions.”

A union spokeswoman says the CTU came up with the $1.5 billion figure by adding costs of so-called “toxic swaps” to the district’s projected $1.1 billion “and growing” deficit.

District officials did not immediately comment on contract negotiations Tuesday afternoon, leaving the CTU alone to control the message. Later in the evening, CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the district’s financial crisis “is real.” He says the district hopes to work with the CTU in lobbying Springfield on solving the pension crisis.

The union plans to hold a press conference to further discuss contract negotiations Wednesday, likely sometime before its monthly House of Delegates meeting.

The district’s proposal forces the union to talk about money. In recent weeks, the CTU has only spoken vaguely about its own contract proposals, which included smaller class sizes and the hiring of more counselors and nurses. Many proposals were more akin to ideological ‘asks’ on broader social justice issues — and not actually issues the union could legally strike or bargain over. The CTU’s bargaining team hadn’t yet made any proposals directly related to wages or benefits.

The district’s proposed cuts come less than a week after CPS told the union it can’t afford to offer a one-year extension of the current contract, set to expire June 30, that would entail 3-percent raises for union members. Last week the district also released a “bare bones” capital budget, the smallest in at least two decades. CPS has not said when it will give schools their own operating budgets for next year.

In addition to the pay cuts, union officials say the district is also asking members to pay “sporadic increases in health insurance premiums.”

Last week, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said the union’s bargaining team was still waiting for the district to formally respond to its proposals. The union’s statement today indicates many of those proposals have apparently been turned down.

“The BOE has rejected even our most modest proposals which establish best practices in various areas of our profession that would cost nothing at all,” Lewis said in the statement. “How do you reject having librarians do their job as opposed to serving as subs most of the day? How do you reject proposals to strengthen special education instruction or strengthen the implementation of restorative justice programs to reduce conflict in our schools?”

Contract negotiations have been much slower this time around than in 2012, when both sides took their heated arguments to the public months before the contract expired. The city’s mayoral elections and subsequent runoffs had the effect of slowing the process, as both sides were busy campaigning.

In releasing some more details about their own contract proposals, the CTU indicated it wants the district’s help in establish an elected school board in Chicago. In addition, the union wants to change the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act “in order to return the right of both parties to bargain on all subjects.”

Photo: Teacher rally-Atomazul/Shutterstock

Melissa Sanchez

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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