Teachers union will fight decision on raises

Move sets up showdown between new board, teachers

June 15, 2011

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(Chip Mitchell/WBEZ)
Protesters in Chicago on Tuesday demanded teacher raises.

The Chicago Teachers Union plans to fight a school board decision not to pay teachers’ raises.

"We are going to fight this refusal of them to honor their commitment," said CTU president Karen Lewis late Wednesday. "That is important for everyone to understand."

Chicago’s new board of education agreed unanimously Wednesday morning that the district cannot afford the 4 percent raises called for in the contract. The union doesn’t have to fight the decision; doing so sets up a potential showdown with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's hand-picked board of education. It also pushes the district further down a path that could include a strike—though that would be a long way off.

CPS says it is $712 million dollars in debt. It saves $100 million by not paying raises called for in union contracts.

Board president David Vitale says even without the raises, CPS is in trouble.

"It’s a $700-plus million challenge. This saves us $100 million," Vitale told reporters. "So there’s still $600 million to find."

Vitale said he could not rule out layoffs.

High school social studies teacher Andre Varnado, who teaches on the city's South Side, says he's sympathetic to the district's financial woes, but he doesn't believe CPS should balance its budget on teachers’ backs.

"People think that teachers are money hungry. No, we just want a living wage. We just want what anybody wants. I think the union should fight this."

Chicago teachers have gotten 4 percent raises for at least seven consecutive years.  The district says 13 of the last 15 raises have been above the cost of living increase.

At Wednesday's emergency school board meeting, the district and union offered opposing views of where Chicago's teachers stand when it comes to pay. CPS says compared to other big city school districts, Chicago is either first or second in wages and benefits it pays teachers. It says that goes for beginning teachers, teachers making an average salary, and those at the top of the pay scale.

Meanwhile, the CTU pointed to a news report that shows CPS high school teachers are 71st in the state in terms of what they earn in wages and benefits. Chicago elementary school teachers are 37th in the state.

Lewis says paychecks for teachers and support staff are not the cause of the district's deficit. She is demanding that CPS look for money elsewhere. She also wants a more detailed look at the district's ledgers.

Lewis says the union will begin organizing teachers as summer school ramps up across the city.