Chicago Public Schools on Tuesday announced plans to cut $100 million in spending and staff, a move leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union said was an attempt to bully teachers after the union rejected a contract offer.
Union leaders said the school district’s move was “the latest act of war” in contract negotiations that have dragged on for 14 months, one that could see 1,000 teachers laid off and ratchet up tensions with union members that last year overwhelmingly supported a strike.
Schools CEO Forrest Claypool said contract negotiations would continue but without a deal the cuts were needed to build confidence in CPS finances as the district on Wednesday resumes the process of selling $875 million in bonds to close yawning gaps in school funding. The district last week stalled the bond sale, purportedly to give investors more time to evaluate the district.
“This is something I’d hoped to avoid at all costs,” Claypool said. “We’ll do our very best to prevent teacher cuts, and we’ll work with schools to keep class sizes small and prevent mid-year disruptions.”
“We would be thrilled to rescind it if we get a deal,” Claypool said at a news conference Tuesday. “We really believe the contract we’ve put into place is the foundation of an agreement.”
CPS officials were to hold a series of conference calls with principals to discuss the impact of the cuts, which Claypool said would fall mostly on support staff like teacher’s aides as the district tried to minimize teacher layoffs.
A letter sent by Claypool to the union Tuesday said that within 30 days, CPS would stop paying the teachers’ share of pension contributions, order school administrators to cut $50 million through layoffs and re-shuffle $50 million that goes toward general education funding to schools.
Union President Karen Lewis said the union would file an unfair labor practices complaint with the state if CPS makes any of the moves announced Tuesday.
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Union members in December voted in support of a strike, though the walkout could not happen until mid-May at the earliest under state labor laws. However Lewis said a teacher walkout could happen sooner with a favorable ruling on a unfair practices complaint from the state Educational Labor Relations Board, which is unlikely given board members have all been appointed by anti-union Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has threatened a state takeover of CPS.
“We have dealt with a myriad of lies and financial myths that are designed to create a doomsday narrative needed to provide them cover as they continue with their austerity agenda,” Lewis said at a press conference at CTU headquarters. “Due to their attack, we have no choice but to express our outrage at this latest act of war by rallying against CPS and the bankers who are siphoning off millions from our schools.”
The union will stage a rally at 4:30 p.m. Thursday outside Bank of America on LaSalle Street, and also will close a union account at the bank, one of the institutions Lewis said has been getting paid fees for “toxic swap” investments by CPS even as the district makes cuts elsewhere.
The deal offered by CPS last week included a promise of raises, no layoffs and a cap on charter school expansion in exchange for union members paying all of their pension costs. Union leaders said the pledges were empty because a state board could overrule the Chicago Board of Education if it blocked a charter school application, and the district also wanted to offer buyouts in hopes of getting up to 1,500 teachers to retire.
Union leaders last week said the proposal was a “serious offer,” which seemed to indicate they were on board with most of terms. But the union’s Big Bargaining Team, a group of 40 union members that includes teachers, social workers and other school staffers, unanimously voted down the deal Monday.
Claypool noted that a “lack of trust” in the school board was behind the vote, and said district negotiators would work to rebuild relations.
Union vice president Jesse Sharkey on Tuesday said the cuts were a “provocation” that will do little to build union members’ trust in CPS leaders.
“The board has been threatening layoffs for a long time. … If they were going to make cuts they would figure out a way to make cuts, [and] they would figure out a way to blame the union,” Sharkey said.
“Last week, we were looking at an offer from the board that there were no cuts across the board and no layoffs, and (Claypool) was saying there was no problem with the bonds. What changed this week? Is it that we didn’t take the deal?”