Chicago Teachers Union Rejects Fact-Finding Report, Talks Strike

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Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis says the chances of a teachers strike now are "100 percent." But that probability could go down in coming days, depending on where contract negotiations go with Chicago Public Schools.

Lewis and the union formally rejected an independent fact-finder's recommendation that teachers accept an offer that was put on the table by CPS in January. That offer would have guaranteed an 8.75-percent base salary raise over the net four years, but it would have also had teachers eventually pay 7 percent more toward their pensions by eliminating the pension pickup that the district has paid since the 1980s.

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[Related: Chicago Teachers Union Gets ‘Serious Offer’ from Chicago Public Schools]

Lewis says the union has 28 days remaining in a "cooling off" period before it can give 10 days' notice on a strike. At a news conference Monday morning, she said the union hadn't yet decided whether the strike would come at the end of the current school year–jeopardizing graduation, testing, and athletic programs–or at the beginning of next.

She says teachers won't budge until CPS finds new revenue, offers stronger guarantees on capping the growth of charter school and limits the growth of class sizes.

“No teacher ever wants to go on strike,” said Lewis. “This is not a joyous occasion. We prefer to be in front of our students doing what we love. But this board leaves us no choice but to withhold our labor, organize our students, parents and school communities to fight for revenue solutions to protect public education.”

Lewis acknowledged that CPS and the union were “together” on the need to unite and lobby Springfield for more help. But she says that’s where the agreement ends.

“We’re far apart on the money, on the loopholes that guarantee us that we don’t lose more people to layoffs. We still need some guarantees because they’ve always been able to get around that with other language.”

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said he was "disappointed" at the union's action and said that the independent fact finder validated that the contract offered by CPS was "generous and fair," in a time of financial turmoil for the agency.

Claypool reiterated his call that the teachers union join together with CPS to demand more funding from Springfield. He says he will almost certainly have to tap another line of credit to "keep the doors open," as CPS faces a nearly billion-dollar budget gap next year and a looming $700 million payment into the teachers pension system. He accused the union of not being realistic with its demands.

"It's an Alice in Wonderland world inside the union right now," he said. "And I don't understand it."

This independent fact finding came about after contract talks had reached an impasse. Nobody is bound by this recommendation. The full fact-finding panel consisted of a neutral chairperson, an employer representative and a labor representative

We spoke with some CPS parents today who are concerned about an end-of-year strike. It could affect graduation plans, ACT prep courses and spring athletics

One parent told us that the work stoppages and threats can have a devastating ripple effect on a student’s education.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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