Mayor Rahm Emanuel urged the Chicago Teachers Union on Wednesday to call off talk of another one-day strike and turn its attention to where he believes the real education-funding solution lies: in Springfield.
The mayor said he shares the union’s “frustrations” about unpaid furlough days already ordered and about the prospect of ending the school year three weeks early. But another May 1 walkout is not the appropriate response.
“Our kids used to be cheated on time. I believe they belong in the classroom. They’re making record accomplishments on graduation. Record accomplishments on reading and math scores and, in some cases, leading the country in urban school systems. They need more time in class,” said the mayor, who absorbed a teachers strike to achieve his longer school day and school year.
“I appreciate and am sensitive to the frustrations that are felt by taxpayers, by teachers and by parents. [But] focus that time and energy on where it belongs, which is Springfield. Illinois is dead-last in funding education among the 50 states. There are 77 days left until the end of this session. . . . Make a goal for yourself in 77 days, Springfield, governor.”
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and vice president Jesse Sharkey couldn’t be reached for comment.
Angry about the prospect of losing 13 school days at the end of the year, the Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates agreed earlier this month to consider a single-day strike on May 1, similar to the one held last year. A final vote by the union membership is expected next month.
“If the board goes ahead with the threat of canceling three weeks of school, we would view their action as a massive violation of our contract. And that could provoke a strike,” Lewis said after the House of Delegates vote. “Some people will say, ‘Well, if you strike, won’t you be losing another day of pay?’ But I would say if we don’t fight back, if we stay at home and they threaten us with furloughs and school closures, if we cower under the covers, then we are never going to stop these fights.”
The union has repeatedly demanded that Emanuel dig deeper into the city’s tax-increment financing funds — even after using a record $87.5 million TIF surplus to stave off what would have been a second teachers’ strike under his watch.
Gov. Bruce Rauner has also called on the mayor to use $215 million in tax-increment financing funds to fill the gap caused by the governor’s veto of a bill that would have given CPS that same amount in pension help already built into the school budget.
As for the prospect of state pension help, things appear to be getting a little brighter.
Last week, Emanuel branded Rauner the “emperor who wears no clothes.” A spokesperson for the 6-foot-3 governor fired back that the 5-foot-8 mayor of Chicago sounds like someone who has a “Napoleon complex.”
On Wednesday, the mayor actually praised his old friend — at least a little bit — for signing on to a bill that would provide the $215 million in state pension help to CPS and agreeing to assume the system’s regular teacher pension costs.
“I will compliment the governor. This is an acknowledgment that, in fact, there’s pension inequity in the system,” the mayor said. “But, if I’m not mistaken, it’s only one year of pension funding while the pension reform is permanent. That doesn’t sound to me like a full agreement.”
Emanuel urged Rauner to take the first step toward a larger agreement by signing a bill he has threatened to veto, saving two of four city employee pension funds.
“The Laborers and Municipal Fund pension reform is on his desk. And the first step on the road to ensuring and securing our pensions and our fiscal stability would be to sign that bill,” Emanuel said.
Rauner spokesperson Eleni Demertzis countered that the state “already provides a special block grant for CPS as a substitute for the state not picking up its normal cost of pensions.”
“The bipartisan agreement reached last summer was to give Chicago one year support for its pensions of $215 million on top of its special block grant,” she wrote in an email.
“The city budgeted on that specific legislation — pointing to that hole in this year’s budget. If the city wants to end its block grant and instead receive normal cost pension assistance, that’s a different conversation and one that is taking place as part of school funding formula overhaul.”