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Fact finder gives report — school board, teachers say no thanks

Members Chicago Teachers Uniarrive Plumbers Hall discuss fact finders report CPS-CTU contract negotiations.   July 18 2012. I

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union arrive at Plumbers Hall to discuss the fact finders report on the CPS-CTU contract negotiations. July 18, 2012. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 20, 2012 11:42AM

The long-awaited fact-finder’s recommendation on how to solve “toxic’’ Chicago teacher contract talks was finally made public Wednesday — but nobody wanted it.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked school board and hundreds of Chicago Teachers Union delegates both, unanimously, rejected the recommendations of a fact-finder both sides had picked to help resolve their stalemate.

School board president David Vitale said the cash-strapped district just didn’t have the money to pay recommended raises next year of 15 to 18 percent, totaling some $330 million. CPS had offered four years of two percent raises.

Though the fact-finder had recommended a fat pay hike for teachers ordered to work 20 percent more next year, Chicago Teachers Union delegates didn’t like his dismissal of their concerns about job security. They said they fear the district’s growing use of “turnarounds” and school closings that displace good teachers through no fault of their own.

For his part, fact-finder Edwin Benn seemed at the brink of predicting a strike — something that can begin, at the earliest, in 30 days. A record 90 percent of CTU members have already authorized a strike if needed.

“This is a volatile labor dispute in a toxic collective-bargaining relationship. The different approaches of the parties have resulted in a confrontation that has all the makings of a full-scale labor-management war,’’ Benn wrote in an 88-page recommendation released Wednesday.

“The reality is that the parties remain so far apart that even a fair resolution as recommended here will not avert the strike that is coming.’’

In announcing the unanimous rejection of Benn’s report by the CTU House of Delegates, union president Karen Lewis advised her members to start saving their money.

“People need to be prepared,’’ Lewis said. “The board wants everything their way.

Let’s get out of Burger King mode where they can have it their way,” she said.

“I have a strong suspicion that we are interested in things that are interesting to them too,” she said of returning to the bargaining table. “I think it’s time to reset this relationship.”

The board’s Vitale said neither side wants a strike, and both realize the system is working with “finite’’ resources.

“We expect to be back to the bargaining table immediately,’’ Vitale said. “We must come together to shape an agreement that is in the best interests of our children, our teachers and the Chicago taxpayers.’’

Vitale refused to say if the district would pursue Benn’s recommendation that the district trim back Emanuel’s signature longer school day in exchange for smaller teacher raises.

He insisted that the fact-finder — added to the mix under a new law backed by Emanuel — did not make matters worse.

“This is a process established by state law. We followed it. We have the results,’’ Vitale said. “I think we both feel we learned something from the process. It didn’t solve the problem. I believe we’re both ready to move on.’’

CPS officials had contended that Benn’s pay raise recommendations, tied largely to the imposition of a longer school day and year, would trigger massive layoffs and swell class sizes.

“There’s no way in the world I can pay $330 million,’’ Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said earlier in the day, during a back-to-school news conference about a school start that now seems imperiled.

One third of the system is set to begin classes Aug. 13; the remainder should start Sept. 4.

Teacher Jacquelyn Ward, who lost her job when Marquette Elementary was “turned around,’’ said she supports the union’s position that qualified teachers who lose their job through no fault of their own should have the first crack at job openings.

“They [CPS officials] don’t want a recall policy. They’d rather fire 1,000 teachers a year and hire recent college graduates,’’ Ward said. “They are killing the institution of education by tossing out experienced educators.’’

The union’s representative on the fact-finding panel, CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey, said that the main stumbling block for teachers was the fact-finder’s rejection of the union’s job-security and recall proposals. Job-security provisions helped two other school-based unions swallow 2 percent raises the board recently offered them.

“It’s not just a financial question for us,’’ Sharkey explained. “We want job security for qualified, veteran teachers who lost jobs through no fault of their own.’’

That includes teachers who work in “tough schools,’’ and then lose their positions because their school is slated for a “turnaround,’’ closure or phase-out due to low scores, or those whose positions are closed to make room for a new educational program, Sharkey said. Such teachers, if qualified, should be the first to be hired when vacancies occur, Sharkey said.

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