Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Chicago Teachers Union have more in common than they might suspect.
Both are highly suspicious of Chicago Public Schools and its financial reporting, and both are going to extremes to register their distrust.
That’s not to suggest they are on the same wavelength, unless it is in some alternative universe where fairy dust solves problems painlessly.
Rauner thinks the school district is understating the depth of its financial woes to avoid what he believes is the inevitability of bankruptcy. His solution is to push them in the direction of the fiscal cliff, where he believes bankruptcy — or at least the threat of it — will heal all.
The teachers think CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and his predecessors have overstated the district’s problems to avoid paying them what they deserve. “Broke on Purpose,” they call it. Their solution is to reject a contract meant to appease them and to threaten a strike, while targeting “The Banks” for any bloodletting.
On Wednesday, those banks bailed out CPS once again with a scaled-down $725 million bond issue intended to allow the school doors to remain open through the end of this school year.
This temporary fix, an admittedly lousy one at that, should forestall for a while longer Rauner’s long-held dream of putting CPS into bankruptcy court so he can bring the teachers union to heel.
Even in this regard, though, Rauner and CTU’s interests may have more in common than it would seem.
Like Rauner, the CTU has been critical of the district’s costly borrowing plans, although again for opposite reasons. The union wants new revenue instead. Rauner wants more cuts.
Rauner envisions bankruptcy as a way to reduce costs to the district by restructuring the teachers’ contract — and possibly shedding their pensions.
“Some compensation might be adjusted,” he told reporters Wednesday with uncharacteristic understatement while vowing that all teachers would keep their jobs (except for a vague teacher qualification “upgrade” further down the line.)
Obviously, the union doesn’t like that idea.
But it does keep pushing the alternative idea of CPS reneging on the money it owes financial institutions, which as best as I can figure, could also best be accomplished in a bankruptcy setting where all contracts would be open to renegotiation.
Although Rauner did a good job of muzzling himself during his campaign for governor, there’s never been any secret about his contempt for teachers unions and his hope to use bankruptcy to exact his revenge.
On Wednesday, Rauner ratcheted up his bankruptcy rhetoric to pre-campaign levels, noting that it’s a message he’s been delivering to Chicago’s mayors for the past six years.
“When I do my own analysis from what limited information I can access, I don’t see how CPS gets through their current financial condition without either completely unaffordable tax hikes that would devastate the city — or a bankruptcy,” Rauner said.
As a venture capitalist, Rauner used bankruptcy as just another tool in his financial tool belt to shed obligations and improve his bottom line, no matter the human casualties.
For him, there is no stigma in being the governor who allows his state’s largest school district to slide into insolvency. He would tell you it’s already there.
Other business people also keep telling me bankruptcy is the ultimate answer, not just for CPS but for the city of Chicago as well. Nobody has proven that to me to my satisfaction, but I can’t tell you I am confident they are wrong.
It’s especially hard for me to accept it as a fait accompli when I don’t think either the state or city taxpayers are fairly shouldering their share of the burden for funding education.
Just the same, I can’t go as far as Democrats who have responded to Rauner’s bankruptcy threat with “not gonna happen.”
If there isn’t a political solution soon, it may become unavoidable.