Leaders say Chicago teachers' deal imperfect, good for kids


CHICAGO – Relieved parents dropped their children off at Chicago schools on Tuesday morning after the Chicago Teachers Union and the nation’s third-largest school district averted a strike with a late-night tentative contract agreement.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said at a news conference late Monday that after more than a year of negotiations, the two sides had hammered out an agreement that isn’t perfect but is good for students, teachers and the city. The deal still must be approved by the union’s House of Delegates and all roughly 28,000 members, a process that could take weeks.

“It wasn’t easy, as you all know … We’re very pleased we were able to come to this tentative agreement,” she said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the proposal ensures teachers are respected and “appropriately rewarded,” while strengthening CPS finances and reassuring parents and taxpayers that the two sides are able to work together. There was no immediate information about how much the deal would cost or how the financially struggling district would pay for it.

As part of the deal, the city has agreed to divert about $88 million from a $175 million surplus of the city’s at-times controversial special taxing districts — known as tax increment financing, or TIF, funds — to public schools, Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins said Tuesday.

The union wanted no cuts to salary or benefits and an additional $200 million — or $500 per student — in spending to ensure adequate staffing and “to accommodate the needs of our children,” Lewis said last week.

After Emanuel proposed his city budget for the coming year, a speech that included a mention of the school deal, members of the city council said they were generally pleased with the agreement though the reliance on TIF funds could be more of a buying-time move.

“The money probably will not available next year so the (union and the school district) are going to have to look for more permanent financing, which is probably at the state level,” said Alderman Pat Dowell, whose ward is on the city’s South Side.

Alderman Patrick O’Connor, Emanuel’s floor leader on the council whose ward is on the city’s northwest side, said the deal also diverted TIF money from construction of a $60 million selective enrolment high school named after President Barack Obama. He said he didn’t know whether the project is in jeopardy or how long construction might be put off, but that “nobody contemplates not having that (school) built as part of his agreement.”

Some parents and others dropping off children Tuesday morning at Ronald E. McNair Elementary on Chicago’s west side worried there’s still a possibility of a strike.

“I just think that this is a temporary fix and I believe that the solution coming out is temporary,” said Keisha Smith, whose granddaughter is a first-grader. “We have to remain mindful that this is something for now … like a Band-Aid and the issue is not resolved.”

Michael Cleveland, whose 6- and 8-year-old daughters go to McNair, said he’d been convinced that there would be a strike. He said he was still angry with city officials — including Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool.

“They know there are kids involved and they know the teachers do all they can,” Cleveland said, adding that he felt the politicians were putting teachers “through this for no reason.”

The four-year proposal includes cost-of-living increases of 2 per cent in the third year and 2.5 per cent in the fourth year. It doesn’t require current teachers to pay more toward their pensions — a change CPS had been seeking and the union rejected earlier this year — but future CPS hires would have to pick up that additional pension cost.

The tentative agreement also addresses class sizes for younger grades by assigning an assistant to any class with more than 32 students.

CPS has nearly 400,000 students.

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