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Pain and gain for CPS teachers in possible 4-year deal

CTU President Karen Lewis at a speech earlier this month | Ashlee Rezin/For Sun-Times

A broke Chicago Public Schools will ask the Chicago Teachers Union to walk back the 7-percent contribution to their pension the district currently makes for them and kick in more for health care costs.

But in return, CPS would halt economic layoffs of union members for the duration of a new, proposed four-year deal and cap the number of the city’s charter schools, according to a source familiar with the discussions. It will also offer teachers a modest raise, as well as preserve the “steps and lane” raises awarded for extra experience and education, the source said.

The teachers union will present details of the proposal it considers a “serious offer” to the 40 members of its Big Bargaining Team on Saturday and then ask for them to vote on it Monday.

Should that team of teachers, clinicians and other school staffers approve the tentative agreement, the deal goes to the union’s House of Delegates for final consideration. That group of about 800 members is scheduled to meet on Wednesday.

Negotiations to replace the contract that expired in June have been going on for more than a year. Thursday night’s breakthrough came a day after CPS suddenly postponed the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds, and a little more than a week before teachers were to be laid off.

Friday afternoon, the district’s junk-status credit rating was downgraded yet again by Moody’s to B2, which cited CPS’ need to finance its existing debt with more debt and questioned whether the district would have any cash by the end of the school year.

A cash-strapped CPS also has been asking Springfield for pension help to plug a $480 million budget hole in its current operating budget.

The district has estimated that entire “pension pickup” will save about $170 million a year.

Decades ago, CPS agreed to contribute 7 percent of the 9 percent teachers pay toward their own pensions, on top of the district’s own obligations, instead of giving teachers a raise. That is about to end — gradually for veteran teachers and abruptly for new hires. CPS’ non-union staffers already began assuming more of their own pension costs last year.

The school district also has agreed to cap the number of new charter schools in the city, opening new ones only if it closes others, the source said. The CTU has long criticized CPS for opening new publicly-funded but privately-run charters while losing enrollment and struggling to balance its books.

Neither CPS nor the CTU would confirm any details of the proposal contract, with CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey saying he needed to present it first to his members before the public.

“The Board of Ed moved in our direction on a number of key issues,” he said. “It’s up to our membership to decide.”

“There’s no doubt that all the issues going on in the financial world of CPS have put pressure on negotiations, pressure on both sides, maybe more on them,” he said.

Meanwhile, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool sent a letter home to parents Friday afternoon acknowledging that “we are making progress toward agreement.”

“These conversations are the product of negotiations on a serious multi-year proposal that would ask both the CTU and CPS to share in the solution to our fiscal challenges,” he wrote in an email. “We remain cautiously hopeful about the outcome and appreciative of the CTU’s willingness to thoughtfully consider this offer and be part of the solution.”