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Arbitrator: Give Chicago teachers 35.7% raise over four years

L-R are:  Library Commissioner Brian BannMayor Emanuel  Northtown Branch Library. Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

L-R are: Library Commissioner Brian Bannon and Mayor Emanuel at the Northtown Branch Library. Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: August 18, 2012 6:13AM



The independent fact finder’s recommendation that Chicago Public Schools officials have been pinning their hopes on to resolve a contentious teachers contract dispute is finally in — but Mayor Rahm Emanuel may wish it wasn’t.

The report essentially gives Emanuel’s school board a tough choice: dole out double-digit teacher raises in the first year of a four-year contract, or roll back the mayor’s signature longer school day and year effort.

Fact finder Edwin Benn found that CPS “caused this problem by lengthening the school day and year to the extent it did when it was having serious budget problems,’’ according to a copy of Benn’s long-awaited report reviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times.

“The board cannot realistically expect that it should not have to compensate employees for the problem it caused by an almost 20 percent increase for the employees’ work time.

“Because the Board has the authority to set the length of the school day and year, as an alternative, the Board can reduce its costs by correspondingly reducing the length of the school day and/or year.’’

Benn described the talks between CPS and the union as “toxic.”

It’s questionable whether his recommendations will improve the situation. Since either side can reject his non-binding conclusions, the negotiations could go back to square one.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll estimated the total cost of the 18.26 average teacher pay hike Benn is recommending in year one of a new contract at $331 million. The recommendation comes after CPS officials announced they plan to deplete their rainy day reserves to plug a $665 million deficit, a move that prompted a swift downturn in their credit rating.

“It is clearly not a price tag that taxpayers can afford, given the state of the financial crisis that we are in today,’’ Carroll said of the proposed 18.26 percent raise.

On the other hand, Carroll said, “Eliminating the longer day is not an option.” Chicago’s 5 ¾ hour elementary school day is so short, Carroll said, “Regardless of whether we have a surplus or a deficit, [students] need the additional time.’’

Carroll contended that Benn went outside the authority granted him under a new law pushed by Emanuel when Benn ruled that CPS teachers should be paid more for working a longer work day.

Benn tied the longer day to a 12.6 percent raise in year one and combined it with a 2.25 percent cost-of-living hike and another 3.41 for extra years of experience. Over four years, the raises he recommended would total 35.7 percent.

CTU attorney Robert Bloch noted that CPS built up a huge expectation around the fact-finder’s report for months.

CPS officials, Emanuel, and some school reform groups ripped into the union for not waiting for the Benn’s report before taking a June strike authorization vote. In a letter to teachers on the eve of that vote, Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard insisted that teachers deserved a raise, but “how much that raise should be is in the hands of an independent fact finder.’’

“How long have they been running ads blasting the union for not waiting for the fact-finder’s report?’’ Bloch said. “Now that it’s here, they can’t run away from it fast enough.”

“Now that they are unhappy with the award, now they want to criticize him and denigrate the fact-finding process.’’

Chicago Teachers Union officials are taking Benn’s recommendation to their House of Delegates for reaction on Wednesday. CTU President Karen Lewis refused Monday to say if leaders would recommend it be accepted or rejected.

That same day, Chicago School Board members are meeting in special session to vote on it.

Benn also found that the “union’s rage is understandable’’ after being denied a promised 4 percent raise this past school year. He recommended that the upcoming contract not include an escape clause allowing CPS to cancel raises they cannot afford, and that if CPS were to cancel raises, “the union should be permitted to strike for failure to pay.’’

Benn’s final salary recommendation of 14.85 percent for cost of living and the longer school day in the first year, followed by 2.25 percent, 2.5 percent and 2.5 percent was far closer to the union’s final offer of 25 percent over two years than the board’s final offer of 8 percent over four years. On top of cost of living and extra pay for extra work, Benn recommended an extra 3.4 percent extra per year for added years of experience—something CPS wanted to dump.

“We do agree with this initial recommendation that our members deserve significant pay raises,’’ Lewis said Monday. “We commend arbitor Benn for his careful consideration of the data.’’



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