Chicago Teachers Union ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ | WBEZ
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Chicago Teachers Union ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ Deal Can Be Reached Before Strike

Some teachers working on contract negotiations say they see glimmers of hope that the union won’t go on strike Tuesday.

“This is the tenth and a half hour,” said Alison Eichhorn, a Lindblom teacher who serves on the bargaining team.

Eichhorn said union and Chicago Public Schools negotiators have been exchanging ideas, but so far the district has not given the union a formal offer. The last written offer was in January.Until the offer is in writing, Eichhorn said she is only “cautiously optimistic” a deal can be worked out.

In an unusual move, especially so close to a strike date, union leadership did not speak to media after a regularly scheduled Wednesday meeting of their 800-member representative body called the House of Delegates.

CTU President Karen Lewis confirmed after the meeting that negotiations are moving along.

Teachers who talked after the meeting downplayed the issue of whether teachers would get a raise in this contract. The January offer would have given about two-thirds of teachers a raise through salary increases based on experience and education, called steps and lanes.

The union and the school district disagree over whether steps and lanes should be considered raises. That being said, the union has insisted those veteran teachers not eligible for steps and lanes should not wind up with less compensation at the end of the contract.

However, the big issues, many members said, is whether Mayor Rahm Emanuel will hand over enough money from special taxing districts, called Tax Increment Financing districts or TIFs, to provide more resources to schools.

Members would like to see each school guaranteed a librarian and a social worker. They’d also like some limits on class size.

“We have to protect our children,” Eichhorn said.

Emanuel and aldermen have reportedly been in negotiations over how much TIF money can be made available. TIFs typically go to pay for projects, from streetlights to major developments, in the area that designated as the special taxing district.

Ald. Howard Brookins, 21st, said Wednesday some aldermen seem more willing to give up TIF projects than others.

When it comes to TIF funds, Emanuel has two things going for him.

He has pointed out that a good chunk of TIF money can go to build and repair schools, but this year he got a Capital Improvement Tax passed just for schools. That means he could promise aldermen some projects in exchange for their TIF funds.

Also, a report from Cook County Clerk David Orr said TIFs generated  $461 million in taxpayer revenues this year, an $89 million increase over last year. Emanuel has made it a practice of sweeping into a surplus fund TIF money not committed to projects.

So far, Emanuel has told CPS that it should expect only $32 million. Yet with the increase in TIF revenue, there’s likely more that could be surplus.

Sarah Karp is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @sskedreporter or @wbezeducation.

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