Chicago school board approves $25 million for strike backup plan

August 22, 2012

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Pickets organized by CTU protest outside CPS headquarters Wednesday.

If the Chicago Teachers Union decides to go on strike, it may not mean kids will be stuck at home or out on the street.

That’s because the Chicago Board of Education is allowing Chicago Public Schools to spend up to $25 million on a backup plan.

“Ultimately we have an obligation to take care of the kids, not teach the kids, but take care of the kids should this happen, since we know so many of our parents rely on safety for the kids while they’re off at work,” said Board President David Vitale.

District officials would not elaborate on any details of a potential strike contingency plan, but the resolution indicates students will have a place to go and will be fed. 

Should teachers walk out, there will also be about 50,000 kids still in class. More than 100 charter schools will be in session because their teachers are not part of the CTU.

Charter leaders have said they’re fielding calls from parents asking if they are able to take more students.

Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard released a statement later in the day Wednesday that said school officials want kids to be in school with their teachers, but “need to be prepared.”  

Before the board meeting, the teachers union and its allies picketed outside the district’s headquarters where they chanted and held signs asking for a fair contract. Next to the picket line stood a 9-foot tall blow-up rat that protesters said represented the charter school teachers who will continue teaching if a strike is called.

Union president Karen Lewis also told reporters more about what CPS is offering besides an “unacceptable” 2 percent raise.

Lewis said the health care package offered by the district would “eat up any of their little bitty, tiny, miniscule raise” and said the new wellness package is “all stick and no carrot.”

The union is still concerned that the board wants to get rid of raises for experience and education. Later in the day, board members approved a budget that eliminates that kind of compensation.

But a district spokeswoman said the budget will have to be amended once the teachers’ contract is finalized.

There was only one minor change made since the budget was released in early July. CPS Chief Operating Officer Tim Cawley said the district plans to use money previously allocated for 2 percent raises to cover the cost of the interim agreement signed earlier this month by both CTU and CPS.

Under that agreement, CPS said it would rehire displaced teachers into roughly 500 positions to cover the longer school day. The cost is estimated to be $46 million.