Emanuel: District can't afford suggested teacher raises

July 17, 2012

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, file)
The mayor said such big raises wouldn't be fair to taxpayers, given CPS' deficit next year.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday disregarded a fact finder's recommendation that teachers receive a 15 to 20 percent pay bump next year, saying the idea is "not tethered to reality."

The report from Edwin Benn, who was brought in as part of contract talks between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union, is not officially set to be released until Wednesday. But both CPS and the union confirm Benn is calling for teachers to receive between a 15 and 20 percent hike during the first year of their new contract, due mostly to longer work hours from Emanuel's push to lengthen the school day.

Emanuel said such big raises wouldn't be fair to taxpayers, given CPS' projected $655 million deficit next year.

"Thank you for the report," Emanuel said Tuesday. "CPS and CTU are gonna do the hard work of coming to an agreement. The report, at 35 percent [raises] over three years, is not tethered to reality."

CPS estimates Benn's proposal would cost the district $330 million during the first year of the contract alone. The district is already planning to drain its rainy day fund to close next year's budget hole.

But when asked where his administration might be willing to give ground to teachers, Emanuel wouldn't back down from his push for longer school hours.

"When you have the shortest day and the shortest year of any major city, you shortchange your children," Emanuel said. "I believe everybody should be properly compensated, but I don't believe you have a system that doesn't give our kids what they need."

Emanuel wouldn't give specifics on how big a raise the district could afford. But the Chicago Teachers Union maintains there must be some increase in benefits in exchange for longer work hours.

"They can't have their cake and eat it, too," said Jackson Potter, who has been involved in negotiations for the teachers union. "You know, the arbitrator has spoken very clearly. You can't unilaterally impose a longer day and a longer year and expect people to work for free."

Potter added there could be some wiggle room on teacher pay and benefits, provided teachers get some of the workplace changes they've been asking for, such as arts programs in schools and certain infrastructure improvements.

The union is set to decide Wednesday whether to accept the recommendations, Potter said. If one party rejects the proposal, both sides will go back to negotiations.

Despite the fact that school start dates are now just weeks away, Emanuel seemed confident the district and teachers can avoid a strike and begin classes on time.

"We will come to an agreement that's fair to all the parties - children, parents, teachers, everybody involved," he said.

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