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Bad Blood Between Chicago Schools And Union Made Worse By Pensions

Months of negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union and the city’s school board broke down Wednesday as the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint after rejecting a drastic pension reform proposal.

“Once again, the board has created a fiscal crisis in order to justify its continued attack on our classrooms and communities,” Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “By citing its so-called $1.5 billion deficit, the mayor is proposing a reduction in teaching staff which will result in larger class sizes and the loss of teaching positions.”

At the center of the complaint is the Chicago Board of Education, which wants teachers, social workers and other union members to take a 7 percent pay cut by paying their own pension contributions in order to address some of the city’s economic problems. The union, which has rejected the pension reform proposal, has accused the board of bad-faith bargaining for refusing to reach an agreement of substance in talks which began in November.

Lewis accused the school system of being “broke on purpose” and for retaliating against the union simply because it opposed Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the recent reelection.

“We feel this is reactionary and retaliatory,” Lewis said at a news conference according to the Chicago Tribune. This is not the first time Lewis has fought with the Chicago school system. In 2012 she led a strike which was the first of its kind in 25 years.

“Illinois is second to last in education funding,” Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for the school system, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Chicago teachers and taxpayers are being shortchanged because of a broken pension system that forces Chicago residents to pay twice for teacher pensions.”

“In the coming weeks, we hope to work with CTU in Springfield on the pressing issues facing CPS,” McCaffrey continued. “Our students and Chicago taxpayers should not have to continue carrying the burden of these financial inequities.”

Emanuel spoke recently on the failures within the school system and pension program, calling for honesty as everyone looks for solutions.

“We have to be honest with the public and the taxpayers and also as we talk about the need for the state, that there are fiscal challenges that if we don’t address, can undermine all the progress that our teachers, our parents, our principals and most importantly our children are doing,” he said, according to the local affiliate of CBS.

Emanuel noted the school system will be facing a $1.1 billion deficit in the coming year, mostly due to unpaid pensions. The Illinois Policy Institute blamed out of control benefits for much of the problems, despite supporters arguing differently.

“Opponents of pension reform at the state and local level often argue that the average government-worker pension is modest,” IPI noted in a recent report. “But the reality is that government-worker pensions have ballooned to a level that’s no longer sustainable.”

“Today, the average career downstate teacher who retired recently in Illinois earns a $69,600 pension,” the report continued. “The average career university worker who retired recently earns a pension of $73,500. Even state workers, a majority of whom earn Social Security, draw an average pension of $45,700.”

Beyond just pensions, the education system as a whole has been struggling and consistently ranks among the worst in the country. The union agrees but argues outside influences like racism and poverty are to blame.

“Institutional racism, poverty, systematic underfunding of education, and their effects lie at the heart of problems in education,” CTU claimed in a recent study. “Yet, there is a complete lack of political will to even discuss, much less begin to solve, these fundamental is¬sues.”

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