In unanimously voting to rescind a contractually-obligated four percent annual pay raise for teachers, the Chicago Board of Education broke a promise to their employees, the Chicago Teachers Union said Wednesday.
"Thirty thousand hard-working teachers negotiated a contract in 2007 and have spent every day of the last four years keeping our promise to the children of Chicago," said CTU President Karen Lewis.
Her statement came just hours after a vote by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new Board of Education. The new board pointed to a $712 million deficit plaguing the system and said the debt can't handle an additional $100 million for pay raises.
Before the vote, COO Tim Cawley praised the work of principals to help manage the debt, but said with a balanced budget due to be approved Aug. 24, something needs to give. "A lot of levers we might pull have already been pulled," Cawley said. "We're probably past cutting the fat."
The board said 74 percent of teachers will get "a step increase" based on years of service, even without raises.
"I have the utmost respect and admiration for teachers and all that they do for our children," Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said in a statement. "But today's Board action was taken in response to the massive financial crisis facing our system."
"Our promise remains to minimize any impacts on the classroom and our kids,” he said.
Emanuel also stood by the vote, commending the board for facing the "hard truth" of the deficit and working to minimize cuts to classrooms.
"I want to thank the dedicated teachers and administrators who will make the sacrifice in the interest of improving our children's education," he said. "I look forward to working with them to give our children the tools they need to compete and win in the economy of the future."
Lewis pleaded with the board to uphold the contract.
"The city did not get into this financial mess by overpaying teachers," she later said.
Ronald Jackson, a parent, said, "if you look for fraud and waste" you will find money needed for raises.
Another parent said class size is an issue the board should address.
"Mayor Emanuel and JC Brizard have made great promises," Jeannette Farmer told the board. "We must hold them accountable."
On Tuesday, members of the teachers union joined roughly 1,000 demonstrators to get their message out about "corporate welfare."
"I don't believe in slavery on any level," Lewis said during the march. "I don't believe we should work for free. Ever. And we're not going to."