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School Board rejects teacher raises, union plans to negotiate decision

New School Board President David Vitale listens as they try decide whether teachers should get 4 percent raises they wcollective

New School Board President David Vitale listens as they try to decide whether teachers should get the 4 percent raises they won in collective bargaining. Wednesday, June 15, 2011. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 16, 2011 12:17AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new hand-picked Chicago School Board fired a shot across the bow at the Chicago Teachers Union and other school workers on Wednesday, unanimously agreeing the system did not have the money to cover four percent raises worth $100 million.

The Chicago Teachers Union hurled back its response by late afternoon in a letter telling the board it intended to negotiate the board’s decision rather than just swallow it, CTU President Karen Lewis said.

If unsuccessful, the negotiations — initially only on the issue of pay — could force a reopening of the entire CTU contract, or even lead to a strike, something unseen in Chicago since 1987.

“I’m very shocked that the board would take any kind of action that would lead us in the direction to strike ... since they say they want labor peace,’’ Lewis said. “I’m stunned.”

Told the system faced a $712 million deficit, board members seized on a clause in union contracts and agreed they had a “reasonable expectation’’ that the system could not cover $100 million in raises due the Chicago Teachers Union and seven other bargaining units representing engineers, custodians, lunch room workers and others.

Emanuel quickly praised the new board’s “courage in facing the hard truth of a $712 million deficit.”

Newly-elected School Board President David Vitale said that board members, following a presentation by board staff, were convinced of the “depth of the budget problem’’ but also were persuaded by staff contentions that:

◆ Even without the four percent previously-negotiated raises, 75 percent of all teachers will get automatic raises of between 1 percent and 5 percent for adding another year of experience or for increasing their credentials.

◆ Based on base salary alone, the minimum CPS starting teachers salary of $50,577 is No. 1 among the nation’s 10 largest cities. Its maximum salary, requiring a master’s degree, of $87,673 is No. 2, behind New York City. Its average salary also is among the top one or two, Human Capital Officer Alicia Winckler told board members.

◆ While teachers have enjoyed four percent raises for the last four years, central office staff have swallowed two years of pay freezes and furloughs and principals endured one year of them.

The last time the board claimed it could not cover its teacher salary obligations was in 1991, said one board attorney. In that year, the CTU agreed to shrink a scheduled seven percent salary increase down to four percent, but resumed its previously-agreed seven percent raise the following year, the attorney said.

The showdown is nerve-wracking for parents, who were threatened last year with higher class sizes. New Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said Wednesday he does not want to even consider such a move.

“The parents I know are just burnt out and don’t want a summer of drama,’’ said Wendy Katten, a founder of the parent group Raise Your Hands Coalition.

Lewis called some of Winckler’s numbers “ridiculous’’ and claimed the added pay for another year of experience or added credentials amount to. at most, $35 to $50 more in take home pay every two weeks over 26 pay periods. “People tell me, `Oh, I thought I would get a raise and it’s only 20 bucks,’” Lewis said.

She also noted that across the state, CPS teacher pay is not that competitive. Lewis cited a May 31 Chicago Sun-Times report that found that CPS high school teachers average total compensation, with benefits, ranks No. 71 in the state. CPS elementary teachers came in No. 38.

Emanuel, who now has the power to enforce a longer school day, has complained that teachers for the last four years have received 4 percent raises without putting in any extra time for it.

Citywide, Chicago employers doled out average raises of 2.6 percent last year, according to the human resources consulting firm Aon Hewitt, which projected average raises of 2.8 percent this year.

The $712 million CPS budget deficit projections are based in part on the CPS losing $77 million in state aid and on the end of $260 million in one-time federal dollars. Adding to the deficit is $70 million — almost the amount of the $80 million teacher raise alone — in new payments to the Chicago Police Department to make up for failing to be fully compensated, since 2009, for the 200 police officers it stations in CPS high schools, a CPS spokeswoman said. CPS had been paying about $8 million for services that really cost $25 million a year, the spokeswoman said.

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