Chicago Public Schools won’t offer a one-year contract extension to the Chicago Teachers Union, saying the district not only can’t afford to pay an extra $105 million in raises but also wants the CTU to help lobby Springfield for pension reform.
Thursday was the last day the cash-strapped and shaken school district could offer the extension permitted in the teachers’ current contract, which means that CPS, while between permanent leaders, will have to hammer out a whole new deal.
Interim CEO Jesse Ruiz wrote in a letter to CTU president Karen Lewis that "our financial challenges are well known, and while the Board of Education recognizes that CPS teachers and staff have worked extremely hard during the last three years and our students have achieved great academic success as a result of these efforts, the Board unfortunately cannot extend this contract."
"In the coming weeks, we hope to work with you on the most pressing fiscal issue facing CPS — the continued inequity in pension funding. CPS students and Chicago taxpayers continue to carry the burden of this inequity, and it has come at a great cost," Ruiz continued.
A CTU spokesman confirmed the union has been told no extension will be offered. He did not immediately comment.
Bargaining parties have been meeting regularly, union leaders have said, with a recent meeting taking place the day before CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett went out on paid leave in the wake of a federal investigation into a $20 million no-bid contract CPS awarded to her former employer.
The existing contract required CPS to make the first move if it wants to offer to extend the contract by one year; that would mean a one-percentage-point raise for teachers and cost CPS about $105 million, district spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. The deal offered 3-percent raises in the first and optional fourth years and 2 percent in the second and third.
Even if it offered, however, the CTU could still decline to accept the extension.
The district serving just under 400,000 students faces a $1.1 billion budget deficit, nearly $700 million of which stems from its pension obligation this year.
CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey has recently said his members are less interested in money than job security — no mass layoffs or school closings.
“What our members tell me is, ‘What good is a 3-percent raise if they close our schools and we get fired?’ In other words, there are things that are more important than the money,” he said earlier this month.
The union also wants better working conditions, though many of their demands about smaller class size and fewer standardized tests are not covered by bargaining law.