This week, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is planning to hold a three-day vote to decide whether to strike if stalled contract negotiations ultimately fail. If 75 percent of CTU members vote yes, a strike could be called later in the school year.
Obviously, no one wants a strike. A strike hurts everyone: teachers who lose pay and time with students, parents who must scramble to find alternative child care, and most of all the children who lose precious days of learning. Even CTU President Karen Lewis told the Chicago Tribune:
We don’t want a strike. We’d like to have a settled contract.
Lewis thinks it will take a strike to get that contract.
But getting that contract probably takes something even harder than walking a picket line: negotiation and compromise.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Forrest Claypool and Lewis all need to work together to push state legislative leaders and Governor Bruce Rauner to come up with a sensible plan to deal with the massive pension payments at the root of the district budget crisis. And leaders in Springfield need to step up and treat Chicago fairly when it comes to pensions and education funding.
Chicago Public Schools should not have to pay twice for teacher pensions: once for its own teachers’ pensions and also for teacher pensions elsewhere in the state. With 20 percent of the state’s students, CPS should not receive less than 20 percent of state funds for education. But right now, both those things are true. Only state government can fix those problems.
Rushing into a strike vote months before a strike is even possible diverts attention away from the real key to the situation: working with Springfield.
The other reality that pushing for a strike avoids is the need for everyone—taxpayers, CPS, and teachers—to make sacrifices to live within the current means of our state, city and district. To keep the pension promises made to Chicago’s teachers and stave off the massive teacher layoffs forecast if the budget crisis is not solved, everyone will have to take on a share of the burden.
Chicago taxpayers have already been socked with $700 million in new property taxes. Resolving the CPS budget crisis will likely take another bite out of my wallet. I don’t like that but I recognize it. CPS central office has already been through significant cuts and will see more belt tightening in the months to come.
CTU doesn’t want to hear it, but the days of the district picking up most of a teacher’s contribution to her pension fund are likely coming to a close. As an HR professional, I can say that there’s no other job in the city where a worker only has to contribute 2 percent of pay to receive an effective employer contribution of 16 percent.
I am a proud graduate of Chicago Public Schools and I have chosen to send my child to them, too. I love and support CPS teachers. And I know we all have to work together to pull ourselves out of the deep budget hole we’re in now. I hope Chicago Teachers Union leadership will see the big picture and embrace the efforts to solve our budget crisis before it’s too late.