New school board to mull teacher raises today

Pay hikes for unionized Chicago Public Schools employees would cost $100 million

June 15, 2011

By Linda Lutton and Chip Mitchell

(Chip Mitchell/WBEZ)
Teachers helped lead a Chicago protest against ‘corporate welfare’ Tuesday.

Chicago’s new Board of Education will convene for the first time Wednesday to address a hot topic: whether the district can afford $100 million in raises scheduled for unionized employees.

Less than four years ago, it was Chicago Public Schools that pushed the Chicago Teachers Union for an agreement that locked teachers into 4 percent raises each year until 2012. Now that the economy has soured and federal stimulus dollars have run out, the district says it will be $720 million in the hole next year. That’s despite about $75 million in planned cuts from the school district’s central-office budget.

Some teachers see more to trim there.

“There are still large numbers of very well-paid bureaucrats,” says Debby Pope, a history and psychology teacher at Gage Park High School. “There are still all kinds of incredible waste. Why don’t they put the money into the classrooms and the teachers? That’s when we’ll see school improvement.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has not explained how it came up with the deficit figure, prompting teachers to call for the district to open its books before asking unions for any concession. This is the second year in a row the board has held an emergency meeting to consider whether it can afford the raises. Last year the district went ahead with the hikes, but then laid off 1,050 teachers and 200 coaches.

If the board decides it can not afford the teacher raises, the district and union will have a chance to negotiate a new salary schedule. If those talks fail, the union could open the entire contract, leaving the district vulnerable to a strike.

If the board approves the raises, it will be the eighth consecutive year Chicago teachers get a 4 percent pay bump. On top of that, teachers get raises as they gain years of experience and earn additional degrees.