The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is warning of an “inevitable” strike by its roughly 30,000 members if city officials go ahead with a plan to balance Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) budget with big spending cuts.
CPS has suffered from recurring budget crises caused by a failure to adequately fund teacher pensions, as well as the growing burden of past borrowing. Even after $380 million in new funding measures passed by the Illinois legislature this summer, CPS was forecasted to have a shortfall of about $300 million. (RELATED: Chicago Schools Are More Broke Than Puerto Rico)
To resolve the situation, CPS leadership has proposed a $232 million spending cut, but the CTU is putting its food down and saying the proposal is completely unacceptable.
To make its numbers work, the proposed balance budget relies on CTU agreeing to a new contract where union members would make a 7 percent contribution to their pensions. It also consolidates and rolls back other expenses, with the goal of eliminating the ruinous practice of borrowing against the future to finance regular expenses.
But in a statement released Tuesday, CTU president Karen Lewis said the union would absolutely go on strike if the budget is approved.
“The Chicago Teachers Union has been clear,” Lewis said. “If the Board of Education imposes a 7 percent slash in our salaries, we will move to strike. Cutting our pay is unacceptable, and for years, the ‘pension pickup’ as the Board has called it, was part of our compensation package. This was not a perk.”
In her statement, Lewis accused Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel of outright endangering the safety of public school students.
“Our members are returning to more than 500 school buildings that are filthy due to bad CPS outsourcing; with contaminated pipes that may have exposed children and employees to lead poisoning; and in a climate where random gun violence and neighborhood conflicts have gripped significant parts of our city in fear,” she said. At another point, she says the district is plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder due to “rampant violence and death.”
Lewis’s threats are just the latest salvo in a long conflict between CTU and city officials. Last week, CPS was hit by another wave of about 1,000 layoffs, which have become an annual tradition in the district.
CTU last went on strike in 2012, shutting down schools for a week in a successful bid to coax a pay raise out of the city government.
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