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Chicago Public Schools teachers: Monday strike date still on

Chicago Teachers UniPresident Karen Lewis talks reporters Thursday after Chicago Teachers UniHouse Delegates unanimously agreed strike starting Sept 10.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, talks to reporters Thursday after Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates unanimously agreed to strike starting Sept 10. August 30 2012. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 7, 2012 7:58AM

Chicago Public Schools officials freshened their economic offer to teachers Wednesday but teachers union officials immediately labeled the deal “unacceptable’’ and held firm to a Sept. 10 strike date.

CPS didn’t budge from its May offer of four years of 2 percent raises, but for the first time it formally dropped the requirement that the fourth-year raise be tied to a form of merit pay and “differentiated compensation,’’ Chicago Teachers Union officials said.

“I have some reasonable news: The board has moved off of merit pay,’’ CTU President Karen Lewis told reporters after the union’s House of Delegates held its monthly meeting. But, Lewis said, “We have some . . . problems we are very concerned about.’’

Lewis and CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said CPS still wants to stop giving teachers extra pay for extra experience. Such “step’’ increases have been a part of the CTU contract since 1967 but are facing increasing scrutiny nationwide.

“Eliminating steps is a big deal,’’ Sharkey said. “Proposing to take that away essentially means a first- and a fifth-year teacher are going to be paid the same and we think that’s an unacceptable outcome. . . . Teaching is a craft in which gaining experience improves practice.’’

Teachers leaving the union’s House of Delegates meeting Wednesday evening said a Monday strike date is still on.

“It’s basically ‘Be ready to strike,’ ” said Michael Bochner, an art teacher and delegate, “and it’s about the logistics, what we will have to do over the weekend, what we will have to do on Monday morning.”

Previously, CPS had proposed that CTU members would get a fourth-year raise only if they had agreed to also impose a “differentiated compensation plan’’ that year. A joint CPS-CTU committee was supposed to decide how to recognize teachers who took leadership roles in their schools, worked in hard-to-staff schools or subjects, or whose students produced large test score gains, CPS officials have said previously.

However, the latest offer “decoupled’’ the fourth year of raises from any differentiated pay plan and merely says the union would agree to sit on a committee that would “discuss different compensation models, including one recently adopted by the City Colleges,’’ one CTU official said.

Another small improvement was that only families would have to pay more for health insurance — not couples and families.

Asked for comment, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said by email, “It is unfortunate that the union continues to mischaracterize the proposals made during negotiations. Their insistence on regularly misleading the public and their own membership is appalling and does a disservice to students.’’

Carroll did not immediately explain how the union had mischaracterized talks.

Also Wednesday, the CTU filed a charge with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board accusing CPS, among other things, of unfairly denying CTU members “step” increases for additional years of experience.

CTU officials contend the board must honor the step increases in the current contract until a new contract replaces it.

The CTU’s Carroll called the charge “unnecessary litigation” and said “it is time to put antics aside and negotiate in good faith.’’

The CTU also claims CPS has improperly eliminated a longevity sick-leave benefit and improperly implemented new teacher evaluation procedures.

It is seeking an injunction from the Illinois labor board ordering CPS to rescind the changes.

Contributing: Maudlyne Ihejirika

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