The President of the Chicago Board of Education called teachers "the most important part of our educational system", but insisted that the district can't afford to provide a four percent pay increase to teachers and other school union members during the next school year.
The Chicago Teachers Union was scheduled to receive the increase as part of the union's current contract. But the Board of Education voted Wednesday to forego the payment in next year's budget because it says it can't afford the expense. The Board is currently trying to close a projected budget deficit in excess of $700 million.
Board president David Vitale told Alison Cuddy during an interview Thursday on WBEZ's Eight Forty-Eight that salaries and benefits for staff make up 75 percent of the district's annual budget, which left district leaders with a difficult choice.
"We can either cut the increase or cut the number of teachers," said Vitale.
Vitale also argued that as many as three-quarters of teachers in the system are "likely to get raises anyway, somewhere around two to five percent" because of the district's seniority system.
The Board is scheduled to approve a final budget for the upcoming school year on August 24th and district administrators, under the leadership of newly appointed CEO Jean Claude Brizard, are working to close the gap while holding on to several core priorities.
According to Vitale, those priorities include not increasing class sizes, maintaing funding for early childhood education, retaining former CEO Ron Huberman's Culture of Calm anti-violence initiative, and supporting magnet schools, which Vitale called "absolutely critical."
With the state of Illinois facing its own budget crisis, Vitale expressed doubt that additional dollars would be forthcoming from the state this year to help Chicago's budget pressures.
"We know the state is in a very difficult financial position," he said. "And so we're not going to sit around and anticipate it."
When asked where money for a longer school day would come from, Vitale vowed to find it.
"That will be part of the process as we go through this," he said "This vote yesterday also started a process of discussion and negotiation with our teachers union and we will incorporate that into our discussions as we go forward. I can assure you that in some way, some shape, some form, we will be implementing that."
Between now and July the new management team will analyze its options and trade offs with a goal of completing a budget outline by the end of July. Public hearings will be held thereafter, with a full board vote scheduled for August 24th.
Music Button: Dan McCarthy Trio, "Harlem Folk Song", from the CD Interwords, (McCarthy Music)