Chicago teachers asking for 30% raises over next 2 years

By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah and Joel Hood, Chicago Tribune reporters

February 17, 2012
The Chicago Teachers Union is asking for raises amounting to 30 percent over the next two years, the opening salvo in heated contract negotiations with school officials who are implementing a longer school day across Chicago Public Schools next school year.

Documents obtained by the Tribune show that in the face of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's expansion of the school day, the union has led with an offer seeking a 24 percent raise in the 2012-13 school year and a 5 percent increase the following year, the net effect being 30 percent.

It may be playing hardball, or it could be, as one education expert described it, an "exorbitant offer" that ignores the district's growing financial constraints.

As she left CTU headquarters for contract negotiations Thursday, union President Karen Lewis declined to comment on the details of the proposal.

"We are not negotiating this in the public," Lewis said.

CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin issued a statement, saying: "Our contract negotiations have just begun and are negotiated in good faith and not in the public. We have not authorized the release of any proposals outside of negotiations."

The proposal also calls for reducing elementary school class sizes from 28 to 23 students and shrinking class sizes in the upper grade levels from about 31 students to 23.

The contract proposal, dated Feb. 1, makes no mention of Emanuel's longer school day initiative, which will add about 90 minutes to the school day in all CPS elementary schools beginning next fall.

However, the proposed wage increase is in line with the 27 percent salary hike union leaders said months ago would be the fair raise for extending their workday. The contract proposal also includes other incremental salary boosts such as those granted for adding a year of experience, referred to as a "step" increase, and for getting credits beyond a bachelor's degree, referred to as a "lane" increase, provisions that are in the current contract.

"They clearly want to put a stake in the ground on what their additional time and responsibilities are worth," said Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, an education policy group. "That said, given the financial realities that the district is facing, it's hard to believe that anybody seriously expects that this is anywhere close to where negotiations will end."

Barbara Radner, director of DePaul University's Center for Urban Education, described the proposal as "unprecedented" and "really bold" but predicted it wouldn't go over well among the general public.

"Union members will say: 'Yeah. Stand up for us,'" she said. "But in terms of public relations, everyone else will say, 'Is that a typo?'"

The proposal also calls for the Board of Education to assign at least one art teacher, one music teacher, one librarian and one physical education teacher to each school.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll declined to talk about the union's proposal or say what the district has offered in return.

New legislation supported by the mayor and signed by the governor last summer will make it harder for the union to strike. It also allowed CPS to impose a longer school day without union approval.

Under mounting budget pressure, the school board rescinded the 4 percent raises CPS teachers were to get this school year under the current contact, which expires June 30. At a time when CPS' new leadership team under Emanuel was aggressively pushing through the longer school day plan, the school board's vote sparked outcry from the union and their supporters.

The two sides eventually negotiated a truce: The union ended its legal battle against the extended day, and CPS agreed to stop offering schools and teachers financial incentives to vote to start it this school year. By then, a majority of teachers in 13 traditional CPS schools approved waivers to lengthen the day this school year.

Though it's early in the negotiating process, union officials say they have already been treated with "disrespect" by CPS.

In a memo to union members last month, Lewis said a negotiator for CPS "rudely" referred to the CTU's 40-member negotiating team as "the audience" as the two sides began discussions. According to the CTU memo, the board's proposals include limiting prep periods and adding additional instructional duties for teachers. There was no mention of salary demands by the union.