Reporting Susanna Song
Filed underHeard on WBBM 780, Local, News, Politics, Seen on CBS 2, Syndicated Local, Watch + Listen
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UPDATED 08/22/12 – 8:35 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — What happens if your kids show up at school, and the teachers don’t?
As the Chicago Teachers Union moved a step closer to a strike, the Chicago Board of Education was discussing what do do if teachers actually walk off the job.
CBS 2′s Derrick Blakley reports, during its Wednesday meeting, the board authorized spending up to $25 million to provide alternative programs for students, in the event of a strike.
The focus would be on providing a safe environment, with positive activities, and on feeding the 80 percent of CPS students who are low-income and depend on school meals.
Meantime, the CTU House of Delegates voted late Wednesday to authorize CTU President Karen Lewis to issue a 10-day strike notice at her discretion.
However, Lewis emphasized no strike notice has yet been issued, and no timetable has been set for a strike.
“Although we have inched one step closer to fulfilling the legal requirements before we can strike, we have made no decision to do so at this time,” she said. “Union leaders will go back to their schools to share the Board’s contract proposals with members and to discuss next steps. But we want our members prepared.”
State law requires the union to present the district with a 10-day notice before teachers can go on strike.
CPS contingency plans were still being finalized as of Wednesday, and there was no word on how many sites would offer alternative programs, or exactly where they would be.
The board also approved a $5.7 billion budget plan for the school year, one that includes 2 percent raises for teachers. It also raises the CPS property tax levy by $62 million, makes $144 million in administrative cuts, and drains the district’s entire $432 million in reserve funds.
Before the meeting, about 50 or 60 teachers, parents and students marched outside CPS headquarters during the board meeting, chanting, “they say cutback, we say fight back.”
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Brandis Friedman reports
With less than two weeks remaining before all CPS students are scheduled to return to school, the group was protesting the lack of an agreement on a new teachers’ contract.
WBBM Newsradio’s Brandis Friedman reports Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis led the demonstration, claiming very little progress has been made in contract negotiations with the district.
Lewis said the two sides have met 45 times, but still have reached no contract agreement.
School officials have said teachers refuse to moderate their pay demands, but teachers claim the district isn’t budging either, even after an independent arbitrator recommended a significant raise for teachers.
“The fact-finder suggested a 14.85 percent raise,” Lewis said. “We realize they don’t have that kind of money, but 2 percent is unacceptable. It is not acceptable. The increases they want in the insurance alone will eat up into that.”
The arbitrator’s recommended 14.85 percent raise was also based in large part on the extra hours teachers would have been required to work for a longer school day under the original CPS plan. But the district has agreed to hire back hundreds of laid-off teachers to cover the additional classroom time, so that teachers don’t have to work longer hours to achieve a longer school day for students.
With that agreement, the issue of longer school day – once a major point of contention between school district officials and CTU – has been settled, but now the union is arguing for what members say is a better school day.
As CPS Chief Operating Officer Tim Cawley outlined the CPS budget plan during Wednesday’s board meeting, he said if teachers want a bigger raise than 2 percent, the district must make cuts elsewhere to afford it.
“We know we will need to come back, and revise this budget, because we haven’t concluded our negotiations with the CTU. And we will propose to you a budget that will be revised, as required, when we have the final numbers on that,” Cawley told board members.
During the teachers’ demonstration Wednesday, the teachers placed a giant, inflatable rat outside the building. They said it stands for all the charter schools that are not part of the union.
Charter schools are supported by the public school system, but are run privately and are not subject to the teachers’ union contract.
The union says it wants a fair compensation package, which includes better pay, better healthcare, and more efficient staffing.
Lewis claimed even the interim agreement on the longer school day was implemented haphazardly, and students are not getting a better education.
“That’s how they do everything – fly by the seat of their pants at the last minute, and we wonder why this district is in chaos. But it is much easier to blame the people that actually do the work,” Lewis said. “None of us wants a strike – none of us. None of us wants a strike, but I will say this – if it is necessary to do so, we will.”
CPS parent Erica Clark said, “We want the board to stop playing games, and to begin negotiating seriously for a fair contract with teachers, and better schools for our kids.”
Inside the meeting, CPS Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard and board members were examining the contingency plan for a possible strike.
In an email to parents, CPS called the plan a precautionary measure, but went on to say they are confident – especially given the recent progress at the bargaining table – that they will reach a fair contract agreement and avoid a strike.
CTU officials said they are not drawing any lines in the sand at this point. The union has not set any negotiating deadlines or provided the required 10 days’ notice before teachers can go on strike.
Both sides have said they want a deal in place, but both are preparing to deal with a strike if it reaches that point.