Hashing out the new contract between Chicago Public Schools and its teachers took 22 months and more than $1 million, with Chicago’s taxpayers directly paying at least $880,000 just in legal costs, a Sun-Times analysis shows.
The bulk of the money, about $745,000, has been billed by the Franczek Radelet law firm, longtime lead negotiators for the school system, through Oct. 31. Another $135,000 was paid to the Jackson Lewis firm, longtime associates of CPS CEO Forrest Claypool; that firm was added to the talks by Claypool after he took the helm of CPS in mid-2015.
The Chicago Teachers Union estimates it spent several hundred thousand dollars on its own, not only on lawyers but on other preparations for a planned October strike that was averted just minutes before a midnight deadline.
The contract itself is estimated to cost $9.4 billion over its four-year span. Maintaining raises to teachers and aides as well as a 7 percent pension benefit for current teachers added $55 million in costs and tax-increment finance revenue to CPS’ current operating budget, requiring a new round of public hearings to be held Monday afternoon and evening.
Taxpayers, however, shelled out another $880,000 on the Board of Education’s lawyers and incidentals for the talks that began in late 2014 and involved three different CPS CEOs. About $280,000 of it was spent working before July 2015 working toward a one-year deal. That’s when Forrest Claypool stepped in to replace disgraced CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and interim CEO Jesse Ruiz, and started the talks over.
That amount does count $16,000 CPS spent on a mediator who tried in vain to broker a deal.
But it does not include any services CPS paid for on April 1, when it kept schools open as CTU teachers walked off the job, or costs CPS couldn’t cancel as it prepared for the possibility of the October strike. The school board authorized spending up to $15 million to shelter and feed students in October, but district spokeswoman Emily Bittner declined to say what ultimately was spent.
Franczek Radelet and Jackson Lewis both agreed to lower their hourly rates to CPS’ cap of $295, according to heavily redacted financial records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Both also waited months to be paid. The bills especially piled up for Franczek Radelet, who at one point in March 2016 showed a balance due of $166,004.80 — the total of four months of talks.
The bills show the ebb and flow of bargaining, with Franczek Redelet’s top month being January 2016, when it billed for 260 hours plus expenses totaling about $78,000. That was the result of intensified talks including a two-week span when the union and school board met every single day to arrive at “a serious offer,” as CTU president Karen Lewis called it, that union negotiators later rejected.
That rejection would lead CPS to return to the bargaining table with the help of a fact-finder, at a cost of $240,000 in legal fees through October.
Franczek Radelet billed for more than 2,500 hours on “CTU Negotiations” starting in February 2014, according to invoices. It sometimes employed as many as 10 attorneys a month, though James Franczek worked the most. But the firm’s bills also show it had to wait more than seven months before its Dec. 16, 2015, invoice for about $25,000 was paid in full.
Franczek declined to comment, citing attorney-client privilege.
Jackson Lewis finally charged CPS late fees. In April 2016, it reported being owed $68,000, and invoiced CPS $64.65 in service charges. In June, it charged $210.05 on a $34,000 balance.
Its August 2016 invoice billed solely for $494.32 in “service charges” on an outstanding balance of about $34,000 over nine months, including $11,000 from the previous December.
CPS’ Bittner said those fees were later waived. She would not say what caused the delays.
Shortly after taking the helm at CPS in July 2015, Claypool hired Jackson Lewis partner James Daley, whom he had worked with while heading the Chicago Transit Authority and working for former mayor Richard M. Daley. James Daley himself accounted for the bulk of the 260 hours the firm billed CPS for “2015 collective bargaining” services.
The Chicago Teachers Union, as a private entity, isn’t subject to public records laws. Tax records it is required to file show that it has paid the law firm Dowd, Bloch & Bennett upwards of $300,000 in each of the last few years for a variety of legal services.
“I have no idea what was spent on the contract negotiations, but I am the Union’s General Counsel and my office handles a wide variety of matters for the Union, including grievance arbitrations, unfair labor practice charges, teacher discharges and internal staff and governance matters,” Robert Bloch said in an email.
CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey said that while the Board’s main expenses were its attorneys — at times two or three at the bargaining table — the CTU’s centered around communication with its members, costs of staging legally required strike votes and contract referenda, and media buys, too. Some media costs couldn’t be walked back, he said, because the contract settlement happened so late at night. He gave a rough estimate of at least $200,000 before paying union lawyers.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if we ran $100,000 in legal bills for this” a year, Sharkey said. “Bloch doesn’t bill us at corporate rates, but lawyers are expensive and we had a lot of sessions. Don’t forget this is a negotiation process that went on for 22 months.”
He said he couldn’t access exact records because the union was in the throes of moving to new headquarters near Damen and Fulton.
“The bottom line is,” he said, “it’s really quite expensive and a big undertaking.”