File photo from a June 2015 Chicago Teachers Union rally at the James R. Thompson Center. Educators have been working without a contract since July.

With a Feb. 1 deadline looming, the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools appear close to agreement on a new contract.

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has been pushing for a four-year deal before the end of the month and had threatened thousands of layoffs if none was reached.

In a statement issued this afternoon, CTU officials said the union’s primary bargaining team received a “serious offer from the district” today. Members of the union’s “big bargaining team” of about 40 educators and clinicians are supposed to share details on the broad terms of the proposal with other educators in the coming days, before reconvening on Monday to take a vote. If the tentative agreement is approved, it could go to the union’s House of Delegates on Wednesday and eventually the entire CTU membership.

CTU officials declined to share details about the offer, although union members have been told the so-called “pension pick-up” would be phased out and the steps-and-lanes salary structure retained.

In a statement, union President Karen Lewis said “the basic framework calls for economic concessions in exchange for enforceable protections of education quality and job security. If the Union is able to reach a Tentative Agreement, delegates will be apprised of details shortly.”

Claypool said the offer would prevent midyear teacher layoffs. “This offer is a true compromise that requires sacrifices from both sides so that we can protect what is most important: the gains our students are making in their classrooms,” he said in a statement. “We will continue to work around the clock to reach consensus on an agreement that is the best interests of our students, educators and parents.”

Both sides had already agreed to bring in a “fact-finding panel” if there were no agreement by Feb. 1. Fact-finding is the next step that’s required under state labor law before teachers could go on strike.

For months Claypool has called for the elimination of the so-called “pension pick-up” – a decades-old agreement in which the district pays 7 percent of employees’ 9 percent contribution to their pension fund.

Union insiders say that CPS officials would not budge on the demand to end the pension pick-up, arguing that it would help the cash-strapped district’s case in getting some financial relief from Springfield. District officials also put pressure on the union’s bargaining team by insisting that if a deal were not reached soon, CPS would be unable to borrow money it needs to operate. Earlier this week the district delayed a plan to issue nearly $900 million in new bonds.

Some union members told Catalyst they are disappointed that CTU leaders seem willing to accept the current offer, given Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s politically vulnerable position in recent weeks. “I don’t see a reason to give in now,” one member said.

Still other members were relieved to hear that the district has agreed to make some non-economic concessions such as a reduction in testing, more autonomy in grading, and reduced paperwork.

“Progress has definitely been made,” said Sarah Chambers, a teacher at Saucedo elementary who sits on the big bargaining team. “The key thing is, we’ve been fighting for all these demands that are very good for kids and good for learning conditions and teaching conditions. … I am very, very happy about the reduction in testing article.”

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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