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Chicago CEO Says Classroom Cuts May Be Necessary Without Union Concessions

Chicago school district CEO Forrest Claypool says that if the teachers' union does not agree to concessions, the district may be forced to make cuts in the classrooms. 

Claypool's statements, to the Chicago Tribune's editorial board, came a day after the district released its budget for the 2016-17 school year.

The operating budget of $5.4 billion is $231.9 million less than last year's, according to the district, and it reflected efforts to cut costs and narrow the deficit.  

The budget includes $250 million in property tax increases from the city, $215 million from the state for pension expenses, and $102 million from the state for children in poverty, according to the district.

Still, Claypool said the district needs more from the Chicago Teachers' Union, whose contract expired in June 2015.

The spending plan takes into account savings that district leaders think will be generated from a contract proposal they sent the union, but which the CTU's 'Big Bargaining Team' rejected in February. That proposal included phasing out the long-standing practice of 'picking up' the bulk of the union members' pension contributions and changes to members' health benefits.

The union has said that ending the pension pickup was akin to cutting salary, and has vowed to strike over it.

"Do not force our hand," union president Karen Lewis said at a press conference called shortly after the district released its budget.  

And while Lewis said that teachers will return to work on Aug. 29,  when school reopens, she also promised that the union will not go the entire school year without a new contract.

"The Chicago Teachers Union has been clear,"  Lewis said, according to a union transcript of the press conference. "If the Board of Education imposes a 7 percent slash in our salaries, we will move to strike. Cutting our pay is unacceptable, and for years, the 'pension pickup' as the Board called it, was part of our compensation package. This was not a perk. This was negotiated compensation with the Board of Education."

But Claypool said in his meeting with the Tribune editorial board that of the three—the state, the district, and the teachers' union—the teachers' union was the only one not to make significant concessions to improve the district's financial position, according to the paper. (The union disagrees, saying that it had given back $100 million in concessions this year alone.)

Claypool and staff have touted internal cuts made throughout the year to reduce expenses.

Last year, the district relied on $480 million from the state, which it eventually had to borrow—at very high interest rates. This year, it's hoping that the state will come through with $215 million to help with its pension burden.

Borrowing may not be an option this year, Claypool told the paper.

"There isn't additional money to borrow, there isn't additional money to give. We have been as generous as we can possibly be with the teachers," Claypool said. "We have a very fair proposal on the table, and it can be altered in different ways; we can provide other incentives. There's a lot of things we can do as part of a global negotiation. But there is no pot of gold."

The district, however, will still have to make use of short-term line of credit to get through the year, according to the paper. 

Related stories: 

Long Building, Chicago Schools' Fiscal Crisis Reaches Boiling Point

Chicago Teachers' Union Rejects District Contract Offer

 

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