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Chicago Teachers' Union Proposes Revenue Fixes, Doesn't Vote on Strike

The Chicago Teachers' Union on Wednesday opted not to vote for a strike, deciding instead to focus on pressuring the city to come up with more money to shore up the financially-beleaguered school system.

The union's House of Delegates put off casting ballots on whether to hold a strike before the end of the school year. That does not mean that a strike is completely off the table—the union could still call a meeting for a strike vote. It needs to give the state 10-day notice before going on the picket line. And the union has threatened to strike if the Chicago school district cancels the so-called pension pick-up—a long-standing policy in which the district pays 7 percent of union members' pension payments, something the district has said that it can no longer afford to do.

The last day of classes is June 21.

The union released a series of steps—what it called a "Recovery Package for Chicago Public Schools"—that it says will add $502 million to the district's coffers.

"We have a recovery plan that the school district and the city council should consider," CTU President Karen Lewis said in a union-provided statement. "Our plan will provide our district with a way to sustain itself until the governor and the legislature pass a budget that will provide equitable funding to CPS. The revenue recovery plan is an effort to prevent more cuts in student programming and education services."

The union's plan calls for the city to add, re-instate, or increase a series of taxes—including the personal property lease tax, the ride share tax from companies like Uber and Lyft, the corporate employer expense tax, and the hotel accommodations tax. The union has also long called for the city to use additional TIF (Tax Increment Financing) surplus for the schools.

"Teachers are about providing solutions to problems; and, CPS and the City have no plan on the table," the union's vice president Jesse Sharkey said in the statement. "All they've done is beg a tone deaf governor for a bailout he is unwilling to give. We have identified half a billion dollars that can triage the bleeding at CPS. We are asking the mayor and aldermen to implement what we believe is a solid package of financial emergency supports to ensure our district does not go belly up."

The district called the CTU's revenue proposals "misguided" and argued that it lets Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislators in Springfield off the hook for failing to provide adequate funding for the city's public schools. District leaders called on the union to return to the bargaining table, reverting to a central theme in its argument that the district, city, state, and union all have to play a role in solving the $1 billion budget deficit.

 "Instead of fighting to fix the state's broken funding formula that discriminates against Chicago children and costs the District more than $500 million a year, the CTU leadership wants to place the entire burden of solving CPS' finances on Chicago taxpayers alone," a district spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement.

"Rather than throw in the towel until 2019 on a solution in Springfield, now is the time for the CTU leadership to press harder than ever for justice," Bittner said.  "We continue to urge the CTU to join forces with CPS to ensure that Chicago's children get their fair sharing of funding, instead of 74 cents for every dollar that students every else in Illinois get from Springfield."

The union contract expired on June 30 last year, and the two parties have been trying to hammer out a deal ever since. In January, the union announced that it had a "serious" offer from the district—a four-year pact that included salary increases over the life of the contract, a phase-out of the pension pick-up, and a limit on charter schools, among other things. But that deal was quickly scuttled in February, when the union's Big Bargaining Team voted against it.

Last month, an independent fact-finder—agreed to by both the district and the union—recommended the deal from January. CTU has balked at that recommendation, while CPS has endorsed it.

The district has also been ramping up its efforts to get relief from the state, arguing that  the school system cannot dig itself from the hole without a change in the way Illinois funds its schools and without pension relief. The district also argues that it cannot agree to a deal with the union that would add to the deficit.

A city spokeswoman told the Chicago Tribune that the union's proposal was misleading. Kelly Quinn, the spokesperson, said that union should focus its efforts on the state.           

"Before asking Chicago taxpayers to pony up more money, we need to fix this inequity in Springfield,"  the paper quoted Quinn as saying. 

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