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Editorial: Now let’s see teachers union share in the pain

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters in front of his office at the Illinois State Capitol Thursday, June 30, 2016, in Springfield, Ill. Illinois lawmakers had just passed a stop gap budget. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Illinois taxpayers will feel the pain.

As part of the bipartisan spending plan approved Thursday by the Legislature, the state will give an extra $250 million to school districts that have many low-income students, including about $100 million to the Chicago Public Schools. The state also will pick up about $200 million in CPS pension costs.

Chicago property taxpayers will feel the pain, too.


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As part of the deal, the Legislature granted the Chicago Board of Education permission to raise property taxes to collect another $250 million for the schools. That would go on top of a $543 million city property tax hike, phased in over four years, that was approved by the City Council last year.

And you just know Gov. Bruce Rauner must be feeling the pain.

The governor really did not want to give Chicago’s schools that extra money or agree to the state picking up the school district’s pension costs, certainly not before CPS got a handle on its underlying costs. He called it a “bailout.” He said he’d rather see CPS declare bankruptcy.

But give the man his due. Whether kicking and screaming or seeing the light, he did it.

So, let’s see. Who has yet to really feel the pain? Who has yet to join in this begrudging spirit of shared sacrifice?

We would say the Chicago Teachers Union.

And, given Thursday’s actions in Springfield, the CTU has less excuse than ever to not come around.

The state money and assistance approved Thursday will go a ways toward easing the Chicago Public Schools’ financial woes, but they won’t solve the problem. Not for a school district more than $1 billion in debt. Long-term costs must be reined in. There can be no ducking it.

The CTU likes to complain that this crisis was not of their making, and they’ve got a point. The teachers duly paid into their pension system, which is underfunded by about $9.6 billion, while CPS often failed to do the same. But, with all respect, that ship of blame has sailed. What matters now is fixing the problem, and the only two seriously discussed alternative solutions — driving up taxes even higher or CPS declaring bankruptcy — are no solutions at all.

Chicagoans would become suburbanites. They would pick up and leave. No parent who has options will send his or her kid to a bankrupt school system.

The CTU’s own proposed remedies are unworkable or inadequate. A state progressive income tax, though we favor one, wouldn’t raise sufficient new revenue. A tax on LaSalle Street trades would kill the street and pull in much less revenue than supporters claim.

The contours of a fair new union contract have been on the table for months. Karen Lewis, president of the CTU, once called it a “serious offer.” It provides net raises to teachers over four years, phases out over two years a 7 percent pension contribution that CPS now makes on members’ behalf, and reinstates “step and lane” raises based on a teacher’s continuing education and experience.

To get more than that, the CTU has threatened to strike. But after Thursday’s action in Springfield, how smart would that be? An effective strike requires public support. Chicago homeowners, who will start getting their higher property tax bills in the mail next week, might not feel much sympathy for a union unwilling to suck it up a little themselves.

For 18 months, Gov. Rauner and the Legislature’s Democratic leaders could agree on almost nothing, allowing basic human service programs to wither, visiting hardship on the unluckiest among us.

But on Thursday, the governor and legislative leaders finally cut a deal. It’s a short-term and shabby deal, one that allows the state only to limp past the November elections. But it beats what we’ve seen.

“It’s a good step in the right direction,” Lewis told us. But she declined to say what the CTU, for its part, might now be willing to sacrifice. Pointing out that the union suffered more than 1,000 layoffs in a year, she said, “We’ve already given at the office.”

The lesson of these last 18 months, one we hope the Chicago Teachers Union is taking to heart, is that nobody wins when failed negotiations go past a point of no return.

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