In the wake of the recent Illinois Supreme Court Decision that invalidates the state’s pension crisis solution, the mounting debt created by decades of underfunding pensions and the fiscal debt that the city has amassed, the last thing that Chicagoans want to hear is the likelihood of a teacher’s strike this fall.
There is no doubt that the city and the state are both facing a fiscal crisis of momentous proportions; however, many citizens are definite in their response to this crisis. When asked by the Chicago Defender for comment, a sampling of citizens stated emphatically that this crisis was created by politicians who were eager to look fiscally responsible by not raising taxes and by manipulating pension funds to cover their schemes!
Therefore, when the Chicago Board of Education announced that it would refuse to grant a three percent raise in teachers’ salaries when the contract expires on June 30, 2015, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis stated that she and her union members have “no trust” in the Board’s willingness to negotiate in good faith.
The escalating exchange of words was brought to a new level when the Board stated that in addition to the refusal to grant the three percent raise, it is asking teachers to accept a seven percent decrease in pay. President Lewis responded, “We are insulted by the Board’s move to decrease our pay by seven percent.” Interim Board CEO, Jesse Ruiz emphasizes that the board has a “fiscal crisis” and the seven percent decrease in teachers’ salaries is merely asking teachers to pay for their pension contributions.
Lewis and her team have filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB). However, given the recent remarks by Governor Bruce Rauner, it is clear that he will stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Board in this dispute and if Rauner has any influence at the IELRB, a real fight will ensue.
Jesse Sharkey, vice president of CTU, commented, “The Board has purposely stated its revenue sources and financial status at a low rate on purpose. We do not believe that the Board is as broke as it claims.”
Both Lewis and Sharkey refuse to predict a strike with certainty; however, they did not hesitate to affirm their total despair and likelihood of a serious battle that could end in a strike. It is clear that a strike is the last thing that parents and Chicagoans would like to see after the brutal fight four years ago, the closing of 50 schools and the opening of several charter schools financed by the Board.
In the midst of this rhetoric and financial double speak, many Black Chicagoans are questioning if this is a grand scheme to complete the total privatization of the public school system — a notion that is supported by many of the big contributors of Rauner and Emanuel. This is not such a totally irrational question given the fact that several school systems in the midst of crisis have taken this move as a solution. The most recent and glaring example is that of the City of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. It is not at all inconceivable that the governor and the mayor could devise a scheme to put such a plan in place to begin the wholesale movement of public education in the city to the private sector.
No one knows what will happen at this point; nevertheless, June 30 is just over one month away and CTU and CPS have not even began serious talks. It is imperative that parents and other stakeholders stand ready to make citizen input when and wherever necessary.