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Morning Shift

Tentative Contract To Include Pension Contributions, Teacher Assistants

After 12 hours of negotiations Monday, the Chicago Teachers Union and the school board reached a tentative agreement minutes before midnight. That agreement averted a strike planned for Tuesday. 

Morning Shift talked to WBEZ’s education reporters Sarah Karp and Becky Vevea about the last-minute deal and what it means for Chicago teachers.

The four-year deal will expire in 2019 and includes last school year, during which teachers worked without a contract. 

Here’s what is known so far:

What will compensation look like?

One of the big issues on the table over the course of last year was the district’s longstanding practice of picking up 7 percent of the 9 percent employee pension contribution. 

The tentative deal said all current employees will continue to get that benefit, but any employee hired after Jan. 1, 2017 will not. In exchange, new employees will have higher base salaries that will be phased in over the 2017 calendar year. 

Additionally, so-called “step and lane” raises for education and experience that were frozen in 2015 will be restored this year, and will remain in place through the 2019 school year. 

All teachers will not see a cost-of-living salary increase until 2018, when everyone will see a 2 percent raise. In 2019, the last year of the contract, teachers will see a 2.5 percent increase. The district hasn’t yet said what will be the total cost. In 2011, when the school board took away a 4 percent raise in the teachers contract, the district said it saved $100 million. 

What about concerns over classroom cuts?

The union and its allies have pushed to make the teachers contract about much more than just wages and benefits. 

In a few places, the tentative agreement addresses some of those non-monetary concerns. 

Effective the second semester of this school year, the board will assign teacher assistants to any kindergarten, first, or second grade classroom with 32 or more students enrolled on the 10th day of school. 

The district pegs the cost of this measure at $6 million. The tentative deal said the district also will put $1 million toward lowering class sizes.

There may be some relief for school counselors, who have long been concerned with how much paperwork they have and how little counseling they are able to accomplish. According to the deal, the board “shall no longer require school counselors, related service providers and special educators to perform case management responsibilities.”

The union appears to have give up a provision that was part of a January offer that guaranteed no economic layoffs. But there is still a side letter from the district that said it won’t close schools for low enrollment in 2018 and 2019. 

What about money from tax increment financing districts, or TIFs? 

In the weeks leading up to the possible strike, the teachers union and its allies pushed for a City Council ordinance that would release $200 million of additional money to schools. The money would be declared a surplus from the city’s so-called TIFs, which are special taxing districts. 

At an early Tuesday press conference, a spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel confirmed Emanuel plans to release about $88 million of TIF surplus to CPS. 

Some of the TIF surplus comes from Emanuel giving up on his plans to build a new selective enrollment high school on the Near North Side, at least for now. Emanuel had gotten Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th, to commit $60 million in TIF money to the new school in 2014.

But Burnett said Tuesday that Emanuel recently asked him to postpone the new selective high school indefinitely. That money will now count as TIF surplus and be handed over to the school district. 

Burnett had come under fire from a group of parents who said the TIF money could be better spent on other things and that the district doesn’t need another elite high school.

“Now maybe they will leave me alone,” Burnett said.

He added he’s happy to have had money to help avert a teachers strike.

Jennifer McDermott Biggs was one of the parents who participated in protesting the new high school. 

“Our own schools were being really decimated and they were still planning on opening this new selective enrollment high school that was not going to be serving everybody,” she said.

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