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CPS vows ‘balanced’ $5.4B budget; CTU sees cuts, threatens strike

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and chief education officer Janice Jackson discuss the district's 2017 budget. | Angela Stewart/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools unveiled a “balanced” $5.4 billion budget Monday for the upcoming school year, calling it “a major road map for fiscal soundness.”

The Chicago Teachers Union promptly threw up a roadblock, threatening a strike if CPS doesn’t budge on a key area of contract negotiations.

“Today marks a return to financial stability for the coming school year, with a clear path forward for long-term financial stability,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool told reporters at the district’s headquarters.

But the budget — about $232 million less than last year — is dependent on the district reaching an agreement on a contract a CTU bargaining unit has already rejected.

CTU President Karen Lewis reiterated at a press conference on Monday the union’s objection to a contract that offered net raises over four years, but included the phasing out over two years of a 7 percent pension contribution that CPS has been making on members’ behalf.

In an apparent reference to the 7 percent pension contribution teachers would be forced to absorb, Lewis said, “If the Board of Ed imposes a 7 percent slash in our salaries, we will move to strike. Cutting our pay is unacceptable.”

The Board of Education agreed to pick up that contribution in past negotiations and “this is not a perk,” Lewis said.

“We do not know if Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel can stand another teachers strike, especially at a time when confidence in his leadership is at an all-time low and the city is in an uproar over another police shooting of an unarmed African-American youth,” Lewis said. “Do not force our hand.”

She gave no date for a possible strike.

“We do not know that, but we are not going to go an entire year without a contract,” Lewis said. “I will tell you that.”

CTU and CPS officials have differing views on the contract. CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner insisted the four-year deal would yield teachers an average pay increase of 6.5 percent. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey agreed that some teachers would reap an increase in earnings, but about half of all teachers would see a cut in earnings of at least 1.5 percent in each of the first three years.

CPS initially faced a $1.14 billion budget gap for the upcoming school year in a district with nearly 400,000 students. It plans to close the gap, in part, with $600 million in state money. About $250 million of those funds are expected to come from Chicago property taxes, which legislators approved in late June. But another $200 million of it earmarked for pension relief is contingent on whether legislators pass

a pension reform bill by January.

Claypool expressed confidence Monday that legislators would follow through and fund CPS.

“They understand what’s at stake here and why it’s so important to have a stable school year, where our classrooms are protected . . .” Claypool said.

Claypool said the district plans to invest “at least $338 million” in capital improvements, including repairs, modernization and “overcrowding relief” in neighborhoods throughout the district.

Asked how the district could afford to make such investments, Claypool said CPS really has no choice in the matter.

“We have a huge and aging infrastructure where every year we have to make these types of investments, just to be able to provide a safe physical space for our children,” Claypool said.

CPS inspector general looks at hiring of firm with Claypool ties

Class sizes are expected to remain unchanged under the proposed budget, CPS officials said. Lewis predicted that schools most affected by layoffs will see “enormous” class sizes.

The unveiling of the budget comes on the heels of a CPS announcement last week that the district would lay off 508 teachers and 521 support staff, although all teachers and staff will be able to reapply for their positions within CPS.

CPS says about 60 percent of affected teachers have been rehired in full-time CPS positions in years past.

“The vast majority of teachers who are being laid off will be rehired by CPS in other schools,” Claypool said Monday.

The CTU has criticized the cuts, saying, “This is no way to run a 21st century school district.”

In a news release Monday, the CTU said the cuts “will hurt classrooms and further the distrust educators have with the Board of Education’s ability to strengthen the district.”