BROWN: GOP senator suggests trading labor relief for pension relief

SHARE BROWN: GOP senator suggests trading labor relief for pension relief

State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, holds a press conference with Illinois State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, right, about negations on Senate Bill 1 last month in Springfield. File Photo. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)

At this point, the only thing you probably want to know about the education funding fight in Springfield is whether the Illinois House is going to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto and if the schools will get their money.

The simple answer is: not yet.

The House is scheduled to meet Wednesday, but no action is expected on the veto other than a mostly symbolic gesture by Democrats to show that Rauner’s own proposal has little support, even among Republicans.

Other than that, it will be back to the negotiating table and the waiting game as schools around the state begin to open for classes amid uncertainty about how long they can stay open.


For those who care to get further into the nitty-gritty, though, there was an informative panel discussion held Tuesday at the City Club of Chicago featuring some of the Legislature’s key education funding negotiators.

One of them, Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said that if Illinois Democrats want Chicago Public Schools pension relief as part of an education funding reform deal, then they ought to agree to give other schools the same management “flexibility” accorded Chicago Public Schools two decades ago.

Management flexibility is code for limitations on union collective bargaining rights, so naturally, Democrats say they aren’t interested.

But it’s a difficult position for Democrats to defend, given that Chicago was already granted these same provisions as part of the deal under which Mayor Richard M. Daley took over the school system in 1995.

I can’t really defend it either. I understand why the unions don’t want to open the door any further than they already have, but it makes no sense for Chicago to be playing by its own set of labor rules, just as it makes no sense for Chicago to be the only school district that pays for its own pensions.

“One of the abilities is for Chicago to use third-party contractors for the provision of non-instructional services, whether it be safety, grounds keeping, landscaping or the like,” Barickman said.

The privatization of such services was not without its bumps at CPS, and many would say those third-party contractors continue to be a problem.

CPS also has more lenient rules for announcing employee layoffs or reductions in force. Most school districts have to inform their employees in the spring. Chicago can wait until late summer.

It’s also entirely up to CPS whether it wants to negotiate with the Chicago Teachers Union on class size, staffing levels, schedules and academic calendars, among other items. Other districts don’t have that choice.

“These are examples of benefits that could be extended statewide. It wouldn’t cost the state anything to do it, but I think it would provide property taxpayers an opportunity for some relief,” Barickman said.

A CPS spokeswoman brushed aside Barickman’s comments as just another negotiating ploy.

“Every time they talk about what they want, the goal posts move,” she said.

There’s some truth there, too, although Republicans have been talking about this particular desire for quite a while now. Just the same, I can’t say this is truly on their list of must haves.

Rep. Will Davis, D-Hazel Crest, told the City Club audience that Democrats have their own ideas for providing mandate relief to school districts to help them save money.

But Democrats don’t seem interested in doing anything to antagonize their union base going into an election year.

Barickman said his preference would be for CPS to drop its pension demands as part of reforming the school funding formula, but if they don’t, he said: “It has to be a fair trade.”

Giving other school districts the same ability to control personnel costs as Chicago should be part of a fair trade, he said.

My preference would be for Democrats to find four House Republicans willing to override Rauner’s veto and clean up any loose ends later.

But if there needs to be a broader deal to bring Republicans on board, this is a reasonable subject for negotiation.

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