New Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis began talks with the
Board of Education on Friday and spoke of “forging a positive
relationship with the Board of Education.” New Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis began talks with the Board of Education on Friday, and spoke of “forging a positive relationship with the Board of Education.”

But there was no absence of her usual fiery rhetoric. “Let’s end this annual ritual of crisis budgeting predicated on secret cuts, secret budget documents, and secret negotiations,” she said, and responded to a question about concessions by saying, “Don’t talk to me about the C-word.” She also noted a discrepancy between CEO Ron Huberman’s pledge not to raise elementary class sizes and this week’s layoffs of 600 teachers and staff at Track E, year-round elementary schools.

CPS faces a projected $370 million deficit.

The union requested budget documents July 2 but did not receive anything until Thursday evening, when CPS gave them an encrypted, unreadable flash drive, spokeswoman Liz Brown says. Once the union gets a copy of the proposed budget, the negotiators will examine expenses and revenues – particularly revenues from tax-increment financing districts, which Lewis said “rob our children” of education funding – for solutions to the budget crisis.

About 40 others joined Lewis and are slated to observe the budget talks. Brown said they include delegates, elected union officers, and members affiliated with other union caucuses.

Earlier in the week, the union had called for CPS officials to hold off on new hires until after they had a chance to engage in talks and review the budget. The union was especially concerned that principals would choose to hire young, inexperienced teachers, who would have less impact on their budgets, while passing over hundreds of recently laid off veteran teachers.

Due to decreases in state funding and local property tax income, and increases in expenses, CPS is facing a $370 million deficit. CEO Ron Huberman has said that the average number of students in high school classes will go up a bit and he will make other program cuts to balance the budget. CPS has not released a preliminary budget specifying cuts, but they will need to in short order. Hearings must take place before the August 28 Board of Education meeting.

Human Capital Officer Alicia Winckler said that most schools are operating under a hiring moratorium and are not laying off teachers. But 180 elementary schools and 8 high schools use a Track E schedule, which means they open on August 9. This week, those principals were given preliminary budgets and the go-ahead to hire and fire as needed.

Winckler did not know how many teachers were being hired. While she said she would not force principals to hire displaced teachers, her office is trying to help those laid-off teachers find new positions. Next week, for example, her department is holding a job fair for displaced teachers only.

“We trust that principals will do what is right and will make decisions in the interest of children not dollars,” she said.

On Saturday, the union, in conjunction with partner community groups, plans to kick off a citywide, grassroots campaign to improve education.

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