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CPS will not offer one-year extension to teachers’ contract

Chicago Public Schools won’t offer a one-year contract extension to the Chicago Teachers Union, saying the district not only can’t afford to pay an extra $105 million in raises but also wants the CTU to help lobby Springfield for pension reform.

Thursday, April 30, was the last day the cash-strapped school district could offer the extension permitted in the teachers’ current contract, which means that CPS will have to hammer out a whole new deal while between permanent leaders.

Jesse Ruiz, interim CEO of Chicago Public Schools, says the district can't afford to extend the teachers' contract. | Sun-Times File Photo

Jesse Ruiz, interim CEO of Chicago Public Schools, says the district can’t afford to extend the teachers’ contract. | Sun-Times File Photo

Interim CEO Jesse Ruiz wrote in a letter to CTU President Karen Lewis that “while the Board of Education recognizes that CPS teachers and staff have worked extremely hard during the last three years . . . the Board unfortunately cannot extend this contract.

“In the coming weeks, we hope to work with you on the most pressing fiscal issue facing CPS — the continued inequity in pension funding. CPS students and Chicago taxpayers continue to carry the burden of this inequity, and it has come at a great cost,” Ruiz continued.

Lewis said in a statement that the board created its own problems, citing recent contract scandals in the tens of millions of dollars, adding, “A closer examination of Board contracts would no doubt reveal even more potential savings and resources that could go back into our schools.”

Members care about more than just salary while schools lack librarians and other staff, union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said.

“Everyone needs to understand there’s a connection between working conditions and pay. I think it’s a rare Chicago Public School teacher or paraprofessional or clinician who would not say, ‘I would accept a lower raise if we could do something about the conditions in my school,’ ” he said.

Formal bargaining last took place the day before CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett went out on paid leave in the wake of a federal investigation into a $20 million no-bid contract CPS awarded to her former employer.

The existing CTU contract required CPS to make the first move to offer a longer contract that would’ve meant a 1 percentage point raise for teachers totaling $105 million, district spokesman Bill McCaffrey said.

The district serving just under 400,000 students faces a $1.1 billion budget deficit, nearly $700 million of which stems from its pension obligation this year.

Earlier this week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Civic Federation about his plan to move away from risky financial practices that former Mayor Richard M. Daley used to “mask” the true cost of city government.

It called for converting general obligation debt from variable to fixed interest rates; weaning the city away from the dangerous habit of borrowing to bankroll costly legal settlements; and building back a rainy day fund that Daley raided to the tune of $1.2 billion after selling off valuable assets.

The moves will help insulate the city’s bond rating from yet another drop, particularly if the Illinois Supreme Court overturns a state pension reform bill and sets the stage for a similar ruling in the case involving city pension reforms.