CHICAGO (CBS) — Talks between the striking Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools negotiators were on the verge of a breakdown on Tuesday.
School will be out for a fifth day on Wednesday as the strike continues. It began on Thursday of last week.
Holding up the talks is money – how much the union says there is, versus how much CPS says it has to give. There is a lot of finger-pointing about the issue in the labor dispute, which frankly is expected.
But claims about money get muddy. Numbers show both sides have valid claims, as CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported Tuesday.
“This idea that we’re flush with cash and just sitting on it, and not spending it on the things that we both agree matter, just isn’t true,” said CPS Chief Executive Officer Janice Jackson.
That is the ongoing claim by Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, which the CTU calls baloney. When the mayor put that claim in writing on Monday, the union clamped down.
“Then the negotiators at the table started saying the exact same thing, which is: ‘We’re out of money. There’s no more places for us to go,’” Sharkey said. “That was extremely disappointing.”
Sharkey suggested negotiations are now in limbo because of that letter, with union officials insisting more dollars exist for salaries and support staff.
For instance, a CTU representative said CPS is now getting more money from the state – about $1.7 billion next year, according to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. The CTU said most of that should go to schools.
But a CPS official said only about $60 million of it is actually new money, which is indeed going to schools and teachers and staff.
The union says CPS should refinance its debt, reducing high interest fees. A CPS official said it is refinancing debt when possible – most recently in September when it saved $20 million.
But refinancing is limited because of CPS’ junk bond status.
CTU leaders say schools should be getting way more than the $21.3 million they most recently received in Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, surplus money.
Tax increment financing involves freezing property tax dollars for schools, parks, and other taxing districts in a given zone for at least 23 years, so that all property tax increases afterward go into a separate fund. The funds are intended to bankroll improvements in struggling city neighborhoods, but published reports point out that there has been a surplus in TIF funding in recent years and much of it has gone to CPS.
But as to schools getting more, a CPS representative said that is out of the Chicago School Board’s control.
“There is a finite pot of money. We don’t have unlimited cash to keep funding the things that are aspirational – maybe things that are values that we share,” Lightfoot said. “We have to live within our means. That’s what the taxpayers expect of us, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
A CPS representative said more than $700 million a year still goes to pensions. He says those dollars are earmarked for that purpose, and it still doesn’t meet the district’s total pension obligation.
There was no progress to report in contract talks on Tuesday.