Chicago’s second teachers strike in four years “may be inevitable” because rank-and-file teachers are being unrealistic in their demands, and union leaders can’t sell an agreement on the table that’s all the broke public school system can afford, an influential alderman said Monday.
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee, offered the bleak assessment, even as he acknowledged that another strike would prompt a Chicago Public Schools system that is already suffering from declining enrollment to hemorrhage even more students.
“I’m gonna be one of those parents. I have a senior in high school. It’ll hurt even though he’ll be going to college next year. But I also have a kid in sixth grade. Can my wife and I continue to take off from work?” Brookins said.
“Just like me, parents will take a long hard look at what’s best for their families,” he said. “Will there be continued labor strife? What are the class sizes and budget cuts going to look like? There’s only so much of this turmoil and uncertainty that families can take before you lose them.”
Brookins said his pessimistic outlook about the strike stems from the Chicago Teachers Union’s decision to picket him last week, even though he is one of nearly 40 aldermen who co-signed a stalled ordinance that demands that tax-increment financing money “not pledged, earmarked or designated for payment and securing of TIF contractual obligations” be forwarded to CPS.
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The policy would provide an estimated $130 million to the Chicago Public Schools this year, roughly enough to offset the need to phase out a 7 percent pension pension pick-up granted to teachers years ago in lieu of a pay raise.
The policy would continue during any year when the CPS bond rating is “below investment grade” and total operating expenses exceed operating revenue by “five percent or more,” their ordinance states.
“If I’m supporting you and I’m giving you what you want and you’re picketing me, what else can I do to satisfy you? That tells me there is some kind of disconnect between the rank-and-file and the leadership of the CTU,” Brookins said.
“If you treat your friends this way, what incentive is there for the mayor and elected officials to take another hit on taxes and [by canceling] projects promised?” he said.
CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey said Monday that a settlement was
possible in a week, despite Brookins’ pessimism.
“Maybe he knows something that I don’t know. That’s not what I think,”
The union and school board have so far scheduled talks for Wednesday,
Thursday and Friday this week, “but we’ll talk as much as we need to
in order to exhaust every possibility in trying to reach a deal,”
“We will talk as much as we need to as Tuesday the 11th approaches,”
likely into the long holiday weekend, he said.
“This is within Claypool and the mayor’s power to solve this. I think
some commitment to fund our classrooms is critically important,” said
Sharkey, adding that he has not yet heard such a commitment from the
city. “We are at a point where somebody’s got to take a stand.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has argued that another teachers strike would be “one of choice — not of necessity,” calling the 13 percent pay raise on the table a “fair offer” that would stabilize teacher pensions.
Brookins couldn’t agree more. He noted that CTU President Karen Lewis called the proposal a “serious offer,” only to have the union’s 40-person bargaining unit turn thumbs down before an independent arbitrator upheld the agreement.
“Some of the most fervent supporters of the CTU in the City Council believe the best deal they can get is on the table and striking is not going to make it any better. TIF money is not sustainable. It’s a one-time fix,” Brookins said.
“I didn’t think it would happen. But more and more, I’m thinking a strike may be inevitable,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s a deal that can be made. I don’t know if they have control over their union. A lot of their members think there’s more money out there. I just don’t see it. I don’t know what else we can do.”
Ald. Joe Moore (49th) agreed that it’s foolish to view a larger TIF surplus as “some sort of magical solution.”
“Even if you emptied the piggy bank, it’s at best a stopgap measure. And if you discontinue TIF’s or empty them out every year, it’s cutting off your nose to spite your face,” he said.
Moore urged the mayor to “make the best possible offer, sell it” to parents who have grown weary of the constant turmoil.
“If teachers reject something viewed as reasonable, ultimately the public will turn against them,” Moore said.
“The longer a strike goes, the more parents we’re going to lose. We can’t afford that. I can’t become a district of just children below the poverty level. It’s just not sustainable.”
Emanuel has promised “another sweep of TIF surpluses,” continuing a practice he started five years ago.
But, he said, “Don’t mistake long-term stability for a short-term, one-time [bailout]. That’s all that TIF does. . . . What about the following year? What about the year after? The goal of this budget is to stabilize and strengthen the finances for every year going forward — not for a one-year. . . . The taxpayers in Chicago who were asked to step up was not one-time. It was permanent stability. When the state did what they did, it was also . . . the permanent part of the solution.”