Asked what she might have done differently in 1993, Chicago Teachers Union spokesperson Jackie Gallagher doesn’t hesitate: “I’d turn around and walk out the door.”
As the union’s mutilated three-year contract ran out in August, the board faced a $400 million deficit-almost 15 percent of its budget. The board, the union and the Legislature each wanted the others to foot the bill. Months later, they all swallowed hard, the board cutting still deeper, the union agreeing to a net decrease in take-home pay and the Legislature OKing a massive borrowing package.
In the meantime, the courts got kids back in school. Classes started a week late and then only because U.S. District Court Judge Charles Korcoras let the board dodge a state law barring Chicago schools from opening without a balanced budget. (Korcoras hung his decision on the board’s desegregation consent decree.)
A series of temporary restraining orders kept the schools open until Nov. 10, when an appeals panel overturned them. Legislators then used a four-day grace period provided by the panel to do what they had long resisted, hammer out a $378 million borrowing package.
The extended legislative session cost Illinois taxpayers at least another $220,000, according to a UPI report.
Students, families and teachers paid the highest price in chaos.
The Legislature approved a last-minute, early-retirement incentive for Chicago teachers that pushed over 2,700 teachers, administrators and other employees out the door just three weeks before classes were scheduled to begin.
A late-August hiring freeze imposed by the Legislature meant that, as schools opened, none of the system’s 7,000 vacant positions could be filled.
A board spending freeze prevented schools from accessing $34 million in state Chapter 1 funds for the first several weeks of the school year.
A restructuring of the high school day agreed to in late-August negotiations between the board and the union saved the board about $10 million but forced high schools to spend much of the first week of school creating new schedules for students.
In the rush to get the doors open under the new rules, schools like Austin High, which was going to reopen as a set of small schools, wound up junking carefully made plans. More than a month into the school year, principals were still sorting out the staffing and scheduling mess.
LSC elections, initially scheduled for mid-October, had to be pushed back so the board and community groups could recruit candidates. Even after a last-minute push, 1993 saw the fewest voters casting ballots for the smallest pool of candidates in any LSC election year, before or since. In another blow to local control, the final budget plan let the board keep $32 million in state Chapter 1 funds that had been slated for control by schools.
Of all the players, the Republican State Senate president, James “Pate” Phillip, may have come closest to scoring a victory because he had no Chicago constituents to alienate. As the school shutdown loomed, he told the Tribune, “What is so important about having [schools] open on a specific date? We just add it onto the end of the school year, another 10 days or two weeks. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Half the kids aren’t going to graduate anyway.”
Phillip used the protracted negotiation period to push for concessions from his enemies: House Speaker Michael Madigan and Madigan’s allies in organized labor. The final legislative package, for example, reduced the teacher vote required to waive CTU contract provisions at individual schools from 63.5 percent to 51 percent.