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Chicago Teachers' Union Rejects District Contract Offer

A Chicago Teachers' Union bargaining team rejected an offer from the school district on Monday that would have prevented layoffs and given teachers a pay raise, but would have required new teachers to shoulder the entirety of their pension contributions as part of a new four-year contract.

In a press conference following the vote, union President Karen Lewis and other members of the "Big Bargaining Team" said the issue came down to one of trust: Union members did not trust the school district to deliver on what it was promising.

Lewis also said that she did not want to sow division in the union by pitting members against members.

With the rejection of the offer, the fact-finding phase begins. A teachers' union strike is not off the table and one could be called as early as May 23, Lewis said.

Last Thursday, the union and CPS announced that the union was considering a "serious offer" from the district, but declined to make details available.

Sources have since told Chicago-area media that the four-year contract offer would have barred economic layoffs through the life of the contract, provided a small salary increase, and required members to contribute more toward their healthcare costs and pensions, with new teachers covering the full cost of their pension contributions.

The proposal also included a limit, with some exceptions, on charters beyond those already existing, the Chicago Tribune reported.

But Lewis said on Monday that charter schools could still circumvent that agreed-upon cap by going to the charter schools commission. She urged the city to work with the commission around a cap.

The city should also declare a surplus of funds in TIF (Tax Increment Financing)—a financing mechanism used to support public projects—some of which the union would like to go toward resolving the district's financial crisis. It also wants the city to support a bill in Springfield by the House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie that would use funds from TIF that are not yet tied to debt service for Chicago Public Schools. 

Forrest Claypool, the school district's CEO, said Monday that he was disappointed in the union's decision, which came after 14 months of negotiations.

In a statement, Claypool said the district's offer included pay increases, job security, and met the union's key demands—including charter school caps, pay increases for seniority, cost-of-living allowances, and more autonomy for teachers.

Claypool also said that the offer included $87.2 million in funds from the TIF surplus.  However, the TIF surplus would not solve CPS's structural budget problem, he said. 

"While we are disappointed by today's result, CPS remains committed to reaching an agreement with our partners at the CTU that is in the best interest of our students, parents, teachers and city," Claypool said. 

"We are committed to returning to the bargaining table and working around the clock to reach an agreement. As we continue to bargain, we must move forward with plans that restore fiscal stability to the district." 

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