With a potential teachers strike looming next month, the Chicago Teachers Union and the school district are busy airing competing talking points to try to shore up public support.
The union rejected contract terms recommended by an independent fact finder on Monday, kicking off a 30-day cooling off period before a strike can be called. The first possible day for a walkout would be Sept. 26.
On Tuesday, Chicago Schools CEO Janice Jackson told WBEZ’s Morning Shift she’s confident “we will be able to have a school that’s uninterrupted.”
“One of the things that I committed to when I became CEO was to bring about more stability and certainty in this district, and the last thing we need is to have parents worried about things that can be settled as long as all the adults are at the table.”
Unlike the union, the school district accepted the fact finder’s recommendations, which ups the city’s salary offer to a 16% raise over five years. The initial offer was 14%.
The CTU is asking for 5% annually for three years, saying that would help make up for recent years of budget cuts, furloughs and freezes.
Jackson said she understands those years of austerity. “I experienced those [losses] too,” she said.
“But I would argue you can’t change the goal post in the middle of a negotiation. This is a new administration under Mayor [Lori] Lightfoot. She’s made clear she’s a proponent of public education and that she supports the CTU. If you look at the decisions that are being made, despite the city’s budget situation, which is dire, she has prioritized making sure that teachers get what they need.”
In response, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said in a phone interview Tuesday that the union has not changed any goal posts. He said their wage demands have remained the same since they were initially submitted in January.
“It turns out that our set of demands ask for things that would look like educational justice in Chicago,” Sharkey said. “She might not be happy that we’re continuing to stick with that but we aren’t moving goal posts.”
Sharkey also disputed an assertion the mayor made on Monday that the 16% offer is the “largest and most robust salary and benefit package in CTU history.” Jackson qualified the claim Tuesday, calling it “one of the largest” offers. The 2008 contract included 20% raises over 5 years.
The union also disputes CPS’ claim that the average teacher would ultimately get a 24% raise after automatic raises for more experience and advanced degrees are added to the 16% cost-of-living raise. The union argues it is all but impossible to calculate those extra salary increases for the average teacher because these increases only happen intermittently. They also don’t think they should be looked at as part of the compensation package.
Separately, both Jackson and Sharkey agree negotiations have picked up recently, though Sharkey on Monday added, “But we are still a really, really long way from having what we need in order to say we are about to get an agreement.”
In the wide-ranging interview on Tuesday, Jackson also discussed whether she supports a nurse in every school, the district’s new systemwide curriculum initiative, CPS’ budget for the 2019-2020 school year, special education and the district’s response to a sexual abuse scandal.