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CPS, Teachers Can’t Agree On Status Of Arbitrator’s Report

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Teachers Strike Authorization Vote

Chicago Public Schools teachers vote on whether to authorize a strike. (Credit: CBS)

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Updated 07/16/12 – 4:59 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — In recent months, Chicago Public Schools administrators and the Chicago Teachers Union haven’t been able to agree on much of anything. On Monday, they couldn’t even agree on whether a key report on their ongoing contract dispute had been released.

CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports both sides have been waiting on an independent arbitrator to issue a fact-finding report, which school officials had hoped could serve as the basis for a contract compromise.

But now that report could backfire on the school district, as union officials said it recommends a pay hike of nearly 15 percent.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

Chicago Public Schools officials said Monday that the release of arbitrator Edwin Benn’s report – originally due Monday – had been delayed until Wednesday, but union officials said they’ve already seen it, and claimed the district leaked details of the report to the media.

“CPS regrettably has leaked to the Chicago Tribune information contained in the report, creating confusion in Chicago as to its contents,” CTU President Karen Lewis said. “Due to the crush of media inquiries occasioned by the CPS leak, it is necessary to some of the aspects of the recommended report.”

Lewis said, in light of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s push for a longer school day, the report recommended teachers should get a 2.25 cost-of-living adjustment and a 12.6 percent pay hike next year, for an overall raise of 14.85 percent.

That’s far less than the 30 percent raise teachers have requested, but also far more than the 2 percent hike CPS has offered teachers and budgeted for next year.

Such a pay hike would be virtually impossible for the district to fund, without also imposing significant layoffs.

CPS has already proposed increasing its property tax levy to the maximum level allowed by state law, as well as draining its entire reserve fund to eliminate a $665 million budget deficit for next year, just to pay for a 2 percent pay raise for teachers.

School officials have already said any raise larger than 2 percent would mean cutting programs and staffing it considers vital for students.

Union officials said they expect school officials will end up criticizing the arbitrator’s report, which top administrators have touted as something that could help bring about a fair compromise with teachers.

“We expect that CPS – which for months has publicly stated that the fact-finder should decide our raises – will now make an about-face and try to discredit the process it championed,” Lewis said.

The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that both sides were prepared to reject the arbitrator’s report.

In an email, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said, “Our goal is to have a contract that is fair to our teachers, students and taxpayers. We are operating under the most dire financial situation CPS has ever faced, so any contract proposals made by the fact finder or at the negotiation table with the CTU must be grounded in the fiscal reality CPS faces today as we must also protect investments in programs that boost student learning, such as the full school day. Asking taxpayers to fund a $330 million price tag in year one alone of this contract ignores the gravity of the financial crisis facing the District and would have devastating impacts on our school communities.”

For his part, the mayor called the negotiating process a delicate balancing act.

“We have two ways of working through some very complicated issues. One is on the fiscal side, and the second is on the educational side,” he said. “We are achieving certain goals educationally, and we now need to deal with the fiscal. We have to deal with the fiscal management and the budget.”

The mayor refused to discuss specifics of the arbitrator’s report, saying he wants both sides to keep one objective in mind:

“We’ll have a full day, and we’ll start on Day One for our children. That’s in the interest of our children, and I’ve asked all the parties to work towards that goal,” Emanuel said.

Despite the recommended wage hike, Lewis indicated the union might not accept all of the report’s findings. CTU leaders and members will meet on Wednesday to decide.

If the report is rejected by either side, talks must go on for another 30 days before a strike can begin. Teachers have already voted to authorize union leaders to call for a strike if contract talks break down.

Last month, more than 90 percent of teachers voted to authorize a strike. CPS chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard slammed the union for taking the vote, saying teachers were given a false choice – a choice between a strike and nothing – when the fact-finder’s report would come up with a compromise deal.

Brizard said repeatedly that he expected the fact-finder’s report would resolve many issues.

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