Karen Lewis: Our members in classrooms; our district in courtrooms.


-From Karen Lewis, CTU

The events that will unfold today in two separate Chicago courtrooms are the result of the turmoil and financial irresponsibility that has defined our mayoral controlled school district for the past six years. First, former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett will be sentenced to federal prison for her role in defrauding Chicago Public Schools by soliciting and agreeing to accept bribes and kickbacks from her involvement with SUPES Academy, a third-party contractor to which she steered a $20 million no-bid contract as the head of CPS.

Shortly thereafter, a Cook County Circuit Court judge will issue a ruling in a suit filed by the Chicago Board of Education against Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois State Board of Education over unfair funding for education in Illinois. It’s a legal challenge that has cost taxpayers both time and money, and ironically, finds its basis in the same racially discriminatory practices that have been a hallmark of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration and its policies regarding Chicago’s public schools.

For more than 24,000 Chicago public school teachers, clinicians, and paraprofessionals, however, today will be business as usual as they work tirelessly, as they do every day, to provide true sanctuary and the schools that Chicago’s students deserve. These are Chicagoans, heads of single-parent families, minority women of color and parents of CPS students themselves who have been battered by incessant cuts and indignities over the past several years—from privatized custodial services that have led to dirtier schools, to the loss of librarians and special education teachers, to the last two years of furloughs. Their jobs are challenging enough without the embarrassment of a SUPES scandal, or infantile bickering among elected and appointed leaders.

Underlying these indignities is a long-term crisis that has severely impacted school funding—our schools are simply not supported by an adequate, sustainable, progressive source of revenue. As a result, each year our members are forced to endure more cuts, and are doubly impacted as both residents and taxpayers of the city of Chicago. So no matter the outcome today in the war of the roses with Rahm and his handpicked Chicago Board of Education on one side, and Rauner and his handpicked Illinois state board on the other, unless hundreds of millions of dollars in much-needed funding accompanies the judge’s ruling, we will still face the threat of budget cuts and mass layoffs in our schools.  

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has spoken of the budget cuts he and the mayor imposed in February as “tough choices,” yet these cuts came after their foolish choice of trusting a governor who has shown no desire to invest in nearly 400,000 children—the overwhelming majority of whom are Black and Latino. Tough choices would be taxing those who can most afford it, or exhausting all avenues to secure school funding, and not balancing budgets on the backs of educators, students and their families.

The Chicago Teachers Union is part of a vital group of institutions in the city that unfailingly argues for progressive revenue to fund our schools, and despite the political landscape, we have had remarkable success winning resources and legislation for our classrooms and students. But there is much work left to do. At our Union’s last House of Delegates meeting, I told a group of reporters that nothing is off the table should the district continue its plans to end the school year on June 1. And I meant that. Our goal is for CTU members and their students to finish the year strong and enjoy the summer break they have earned.

After the courtrooms clear today, our members will return to work Monday morning, rallying before and after classes in recognition of May Day, in their positions as the real leaders of Chicago’s public schools. They understand better than most that we are in a difficult climate, but they remain committed to their students and classrooms just as our union is committed to advocating for our schools, defending our profession and demanding fair funding for public education.

Chicago students and teachers will be in class this morning.


Late Monday night/early Tuesday morning the news came from the SEIU offices where CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union were collective bargaining.

A deal had been reached.

The tentative agreement will be presented to the CTU House of Delegates for a vote. Meanwhile teachers and students are where they should be on the Tuesday after Columbus Day (Indigenous People’s Day).

Congratulations to the negotiators and leadership of the CTU.

Language in the contract continues the 7% pension pickup for current members of the bargaining unit.

Salary increases in the final two years of the contract total 4.5% over step and lane movement.

Chicago teachers have been without a contract for over a year.

Rahm has handed Trump a dog whistle.


The tragedy of Chicago gun violence and systematic police misconduct is one felt by Chicago citizens every day.

Every decent person in this city wants to find a way to end it and is disgusted watching Donald Trump use our city’s name as a dog whistle to his racist base of voters.

He can thank Rahm, and we can blame Rahm, for that.

And now Rahm has handed Trump another gift.

Rahm’s refusal to bargain a pay raise for the teachers in our public schools has provoked a strike deadline for October 11th.

Less than four weeks before the general election thirty thousand striking teachers in their red shirts, marching down La Salle Street will make every evening news show and hourly on cable.

Trump has no chance of taking Illinois.

But Chicago, run by a Clinton Democrat, has become a Trump racist dog whistle. Chicago is the message Trump whispers behind closed doors and at his pep rallies.

He snuck into Chicago yesterday without announcing his schedule to speak to a pro-Trump gathering of Polish Americans and then ran to the safety of the Chicago suburbs.

It was the first time he stepped foot in this city since we ran him out forcing him to cancel an appearance months ago.

His message:

Hillary Democrats can’t govern. 

Hillary can’t be pleased. And Senate Democrat Tammy Duckworth, locked in a close race with Mark Kirk and key to a Democratic majority in the Senate, must be pulling her hair out.

The vote to strike on October 11th is not irreversible.

And Rahm has the money to settle it.

I’m betting Hillary wants it settled.

WBEZ’s Sarah Karp and Becky Vevea report this morning:

The teachers union presented a clear path for Mayor Rahm Emanuel that could avert a strike: Release more Tax Increment Finance funds to Chicago Public Schools. TIFs are special taxing districts that are used for economic development.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey called the TIF fund a “slush fund for the mayor that supports wealthy developers.” The union has argued that some of that money could be used for teacher salaries and also to restore some positions closed due to budget cuts.

Rahm miraculously came up with the money to hire a thousand cops.

Without an across the board salary increase, up to 8,000 veteran teachers, members of the union, will receive no step and lane increase at all and no raise.

The morning news is good for Hillary.

The New York Times election forecast has her as a 71% favorite.

For the first time in weeks, Nate Silver has her as a better than 60% favorite.

But that all may change October 11th.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey on the CTU strike vote.


2014 drawing by Fred Klonsky.

-By Jesse Sharkey (from his Facebook page).

The Chicago Tribune is comparing the CTU’s strike vote to some of the most undemocratic regimes in the world. What I find enraging here is that the CTU is held to a ridiculously high standard for voting on a strike (75% of entire membership must vote in affirmative.) Think about that: an 80% yes vote on an 80% turnout would still fail. But the CTU is not credited for meeting a democratic standard which virtually no elected official could meet. We are condemned. The appointed Board of Ed is not compared to North Korea and castigated for stalling negotiations for 22 months while their unelected members slash public schools. The Tribune’s attack on our vote-by-petition reveals how deeply they despise our power and voice.

Why do a vote by petition? Because our original vote (in December) is being challenged by Rauner’s appointed Labor Board and the CTU’s (elected) executive board and the CTU’s (elected) House of Delegates voted to approve this procedure. We also want to ensure our members talk to the newly hired teachers in our building.

Our original vote took over a month to plan–and was held on three successive days. It required printing three sets of ballots, ballot envelopes, three ballot boxes, three sets of ballot seals, three sets of voter lists, and delivering and picking up the materials from 550 worksites by courier three times. The whole procedure cost well over $100,000 and literally thousands of hours of volunteer time on the part of hundreds of rank and file CTU members.

When we started considering a re-vote just weeks into the school year we considered that unions typically hold strike votes in a members-only meeting and take a standing vote on the spot. It’s not that the voting is public–votes are shared with neither the boss nor with non-members. But the matter is shared among union members at a workplace. This is a reasonable way to approach the decision about a strike–and one that the union movement has used for over a hundred years.

Our members-only voting requires that we talk to each other, respect each others opinions at work, and take important decisions as a group.

Consider how much work it requires to maintain the level of participatory democracy the CTU exhibits. Elected officers work at the union office and get most media attention but consider that an elected Executive Board steers the organization while working full time in schools, 800 elected delegates conduct union meetings, meet regularly as our House of Delegates and are the face of the union in 550 worksites, and thousands of members participate in CTU events, read and stay informed, argue, and will ultimately approve or reject a contract (not to mention authorize or not authorize a strike.)

Not only do I think the CTU is most democratic union in the country, I think its the most democratic institution in the City of Chicago. It’s possible that the Tribune attacks the CTU because they do not understand what we really do–which is a bit pitiful considering how much time they spend fulminating about us. But I suspect the real reason The Tribune voices disdain for our workplace democracy is precisely because that democracy leads to a more active and combative union and that is hat they truly fear and despise.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis’ letter to members on the current strike vote.



We cannot let the mayor and his CPS CEO continue to make terrible cuts to PSRPs, classroom teachers and special education while slashing after school programs, libraries, counselors and school nurses. Our ability to strike is our most powerful weapon to demand justice for ourselves and our students, so it is imperative that you vote “yes” for strike re-authorization this week.

After we went on strike in 2012, the Board of Ed restored contract language regarding class size; left our steps and lanes intact; backed off increasing health care costs; gave us the ability to grieve evaluations and discipline; implemented a short-term disability system (which gave maternity and paternity benefits to our members for the first time); and stepped back from its proposal to eliminate rights for laid off teachers. Again, we must make our power felt to compel the mayor to take our demands seriously.

We sacrifice—and will continue to sacrifice—for our students and classrooms. In addition to this, however, the district has taken pension holidays costing us more than $2 billion; rescinded a 4 percent salary increase in 2012; closed 50 schools in 2013; and mandated three furlough days last year. Enough is enough. We are not asking for exorbitant raises. We are asking that the mayor and his handpicked Board of Ed properly fund our classrooms with the hundreds of millions available via progressive revenue sources such as the city’s TIF surplus, a corporate head tax and/or taxes on LaSalle Street commodities traders.

This week’s vote is to reinforce the democratic sentiment your union made last December when members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. We know that the mayor and the governor will attempt to take away our power through their appointed labor relations board. This is a vote to protect our rights and prepare our buildings for a possible strike. If we remain unified, we will have more power to push our elected and appointed officials to treat us with dignity and respect.

This week, vote “yes” to protect your students, your classrooms and your profession.

In solidarity,
ILLUSTRATION: strike vote letter
Karen GJ Lewis, NBCT
President, Chicago Teachers Union

CTU schedules their third strike vote since SB7 was passed which was intended to reduce strike votes.


Following yesterday’s meeting of the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates, a strike vote has been set for September 21 through the 23rd in members’ home buildings.

This past week Chicago teachers began their second teaching year without a contract.

One major issue is the proposal by the board to cut teacher take-home pay. A pay cut would result from an increase in the teacher contribution and a reduction in the board contribution to the pension fund.

According to CTU President Karen Lewis, a pay cut at a time when the challenges facing teachers requires more from all of them is unacceptable.

Lewis said teachers are being undermined because of the cuts in education funding. Therefore it is not acceptable to ask teachers to take a pay cut when they are having to teach larger classrooms without the help of aids or fine arts teachers, which were let go in droves, the union said.

This will be the third strike authorization vote by Chicago teachers since Senate Bill 7 was passed in 2011 by the legislature and signed by Democratic Governor Pat Quinn.

SB7 was the brain-child of school reformer Jonah Edelman and his astro-turf group, Stand for Children. SFC still operates in Illinois and around the country, funneling tens of thousands of campaign dollars to legislators who support their corporate reform, anti-union agenda.

One of the provisions of the law was that Chicago teacher union members were required to vote for a strike by numbers exceeding 75% of their membership.

In a video taped at the Aspen Institute, and which was first posted on this blog, Edelman explained how he bamboozled the state’s union leadership, the IFT and the IEA, into supporting the bill.

After I posted the video, Edelman was forced to write me an apology.

In the apology, he addressed the issue of the super-majority strike vote requirement for Chicago teachers.

There will be more transparency in the contract negotiation process statewide, which will hopefully lead to fewer divisive conflicts and better, more student-centered decisions, and Chicago Public Schools’ will be able to lengthen its school day and school year in order to give teachers more time to help students learn and to plan and collaborate.

Well, that never happened. Chicago teachers went on strike in 2012 following a strike vote of over 90%.

This coming strike authorization vote will be the third since Senate Bill 7 demanded a 75% vote by CTU members. It will be the third time the vote will exceed 75%.

What the corporate reformers (and apparently some state union leaders) don’t get is that divisive conflicts between teachers, the Mayor and the board won’t stop by restricting or removing the right to collective bargaining, including the right to strike.

In fact, those kind of legal restrictions only serve to encourage divisive conflicts.

It will only come through good-faith bargaining and a fair contract.


“Ginning up union members with a threat of a teacher strike?” Nope. Here are the issues.

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Chicago’s Ravenswood teachers and union members.

Professional union bashers have falsely claimed that the Chicago Teachers Union has not been transparent about the content of collective bargaining between the CTU and the unelected school board.

In spite of the haters’ claims, the CTU has posted the bargaining positions of both the CTU and the unelected board.


CTU Position:

3-year contract (expiring end of June 2018)

Board of Ed Position:

4-year contract


CTU Position:

Protects our step and lane structure and pension pick up for all three years with 2% raises in years two and three.

Board of Ed Position:

The Board’s proposal for 4-year salary: (We are not counting steps and lanes as salary increases because over 90% of school districts in Illinois recognize them as part of the experience/level of education ladder in teaching. CPS is trying to alter that permanently and count them as cost of living raises in order to reduce our compensation.)

YEAR 1 (2015-2016)

Three furlough days LOSS
Cut in lanes/steps: 1.8%

Net loss: 3.24% salary

YEAR 2 (2016-2017)

3.5% pension pick up LOSS

2.75% cola GAIN

0.8% health care LOSS

Net loss: 1.55% salary

YEAR 3 (2017-2018)

3.5% pension pick up LOSS

3.0% cola GAIN

0.8% health care LOSS

Net loss: 1.3% salary

YEAR 4 (2018-2019)

3% cola GAIN

Net gain: 3.0%


6.09% – 3.0% = 3.09%

Health care

CTU Position:

No health care cuts and restrictions on the Board’s ability to change our health care providers.

Board of Ed Position:

Substantially increases our health care premiums, co-pays, emergency room visits and deductibles while reducing the plan options we have to choose from.

Case Management and Special Education (SPED)

CTU Position:

Requires additional hiring within our bargaining unit to perform case management duties and workload limits for SPED educators and PSRPs.

Board of Ed Position:

Continues current practice of staff reductions and cuts to SPED funding.

Class size

CTU Position:

Enforceable class size limits. Protects our classrooms from mass layoffs.

Board of Ed Position:

No limits on class size.

Student-Based Budgeting

CTU Position:

Eliminates student-based budgeting and its discriminatory impact on staffing veteran teachers.

Board of Ed Position:

Refuses to change the policy.

Layoffs and Recall

CTU Position:

Requires that the district maintains staffing averages and puts laid-off members into existing vacancies. Also requires CPS to allow teachers to follow students when new schools open near an existing school’s attendance boundary.

Board of Ed Position:

Further reduces the rights of laid-off members to return to the system.

Librarians, Counselors, Social Workers, Nurses, School Psychologists

CTU Position:

Calls for protecting our students through guaranteed, adequate staffing for librarians, counselors, social workers and school psychologists at every school.

Board of Ed Position:

Continue to diminish number of librarians throughout the district while refusing to increase the ratio for the other positions.

Retirement Incentive

CTU Position:

No minimum number of retirements to qualify for lump sum payout for early retirement.

Board of Ed Position:

Requires 1,500 teacher retirements and 900 PSRP retirements to trigger the incentive.

School Closings and Charter Expansion

CTU Position:

A moratorium on school closings; severely limit charter expansion and enrollment. Chicago Public Schools should cooperate with the CTU to lobby to eliminate the Illinois State Charter Commission.

Board of Ed Position:

Close schools that cannot make graduation requirements (a vague standard). Promises to reject new charters but allows the Illinois State Charter Commission, dominated by charter advocates, to overrule that decision.

Sustainable Community Schools and Restorative Practices

CTU Position:

Guarantees of funding for 20-50 sustainable community schools with significant supports, staffing and wrap-around services.

Board of Ed Position:

CPS agrees in principle but the devil is in the details.

Is CPS CEO Forrest Claypool correct that the 7% pension pick-up that CPS pays in teacher and PSRP salary is unreasonable or excessive compared to other Illinois school districts?

No—absolutely not. Teachers in Chicago and across the state do not receive social security, and our pensions are the only form of retirement income we possess. In the 1980s, many school districts could not afford raises, and in lieu of them, agreed to pay a portion of the employee pension costs. More than half of all school districts in the state pay more of their employee pension costs than Chicago Public Schools. (Fifty-seven percent of districts pay more according to data from the Teachers’ Retirement System, but that does not include districts that have converted the pick-up into salary, which would actually increase the percentage.)

Claypool appears to want a mass exodus of teachers like the exodus he has caused of quality principals. It’s hard to imagine any other reason why he is cutting teacher pay in a city with a higher cost of living and fewer teacher rights than any of our neighboring districts. For example, teachers elsewhere in Illinois can negotiate lower class sizes and push back through their bargaining rights against privatization deals like Aramark and Sodexho. Additionally, educators must live in the city to work in the city. Our property taxes are going up, too, so cutting our pay simultaneously is a huge disincentive to work in CPS.

Is there a chance we could settle and not require a strike?

We hope so. Bargaining has been ongoing throughout the summer but the Board of Ed has barely moved from its offer on January 29, 2016. As you can see from the comparison between its position and ours, we have a long way to go. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his appointed Board have shown time and time again that they will not compromise or back down unless we exercise our power. Preparing for a strike is our ultimate power, and unless we prepare, we will likely never get a decent contract from the Board.

The good news is that the issues we need to resolve are not insurmountable; the $300 million that separates our position from the Board’s position can be solved if the mayor declared a major (tax increment financing) TIF surplus and taxed corporations using the municipal power he possesses.

When on strike, what happens to my health insurance?

It is unlikely that our health benefits will be suspended by the CPS. If we were to strike early in the month, health insurance is generally guaranteed for the duration of the month. In the event that the Board did suspend our benefits, however, it would qualify as a Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) event. COBRA allows employees to pay their own insurance at a cost of 102% of the coverage. The employee has 60 days to respond whether or not they will accept COBRA, and an additional 45 days to pay for the coverage.

If the new labor contract, effective July 1, 2015, is settled and the strike ends (which it likely would) prior to the deadline to pay the COBRA bill, then your medical bills will be covered by the insurance company once our health plan is reinstated.

Why not strike immediately instead of reporting to school in August and September?

Our House of Delegates was clear on this question—our members will use the opportunity to organize in the workplace at the beginning of the year, collect a paycheck and activate our insurance to avoid the possibility of losing coverage during a strike. This way we set our own deadline instead of waiting for the Board to treat us fairly.

Why go on strike? What did the one-day strike on April 1 get us?

The mayor and his handpicked CPS CEO have cut an unconscionable amount from schools in special education programming, librarians and nurses, 1,000 staff layoffs and continued havoc from student-based budgeting. We must continue to protect our students and their classrooms.

Regarding April 1, our battle cries from that day were heard in Springfield. In the immediate aftermath, we helped successfully restore the state pension levy to the tune of $250 million and increased the school funding formula by more than $100 million—with the potential to add $200 million by early next year. The pension levy had been suspended since mayoral control of CPS was imposed by the state legislature in 1995, so this was a real victory. Without this funding, the value of a strike would have been to limit cuts, layoffs and program reductions. Now, there is a real pathway to a fair contract without starving the schools or harming educators.

Our collective action on April 1 also helped temporarily break the impasse in Springfield and provide a much better opportunity to settle a contract that will be good for teachers and students. Additionally, prior to the one-day strike, Claypool was actively talking about 5,000 layoffs, additional furlough days and unilateral action to cut our salaries by 7% (the pension pick-up). None of those things happened and our ability to strike will continue to be an important tool in the fight for educational justice.

Why is the Union considering taking another strike vote?

CTU members already voted to authorize a strike and are still extremely united on that question. We are clear: Members have spoken, that authorization is still in place and people are ready to use it if needed. But we also know that Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner will do everything they can to try to take away our right to strike. Rauner appoints the Illinois Labor Relations Board and the mayor has already tried to make striking illegal for us in 2012 and again last year.

This is why the CTU is considering organizing a new vote. One option is to circulate voting materials in schools with every CTU member signing onto a petition. It would help us get organized in our buildings and send a powerful message to the city that we’re ready to fight for a fair contract. We would also be able to declare it as another official authorization vote to offset any potential legal challenges.

What is the Big Bargaining Team and why should we trust its judgment?

The officers of the CTU asked 50 members of our elected Executive Board, school leaders, delegates and members who represent the diversity, geographic dispersion and specific positions within the union (clinicians, PSRPs, itinerant teachers, etc.) to help look at any Board proposals to ensure member interests are reflected at every step of the bargaining process. The Big Bargaining Team has been a critical group of leaders who hold various perspectives, concerns and levels of expertise in our union, and has been invaluable in providing the detail and insight necessary to negotiate the best terms and conditions for our next contract.

Once the Board makes an offer worth consideration there will be a recommendation from CTU officers and the Big Bargaining Team to the House of Delegates (HOD) for an “accept” or “reject” vote. If a tentative offer is accepted by the HOD, it then goes to the entire membership for approval.

Did teacher and PSRP compensation cause CPS’ financial crisis?

No. The two biggest cost drivers in the CPS budget are debt service and charter expansion. Instead of going after teachers who already have experienced pay freezes, mass layoffs and budget cuts, the mayor and his CPS CEO should go after the big banks that ripped off the city and the schools with toxic interest rate swaps worth over $1 billion. They should also call for a charter moratorium and empty the $500 million TIF fund, both of which remove a considerable amount of district resources that would be better used in our classrooms.

Equitable short-term and long-term solutions exist. The Cook County Clerk’s office recently reported the nearly $500 million in tax receipts sitting in TIF accounts. The cut in teacher salary amounts to just $200 million. By emptying TIF surpluses across the city, not only can CPS avoid cutting teachers, but the draconian cuts imposed this summer also can be reversed. Additionally, the city could re-impose the corporate head tax and make it less of a nuisance to pay for employers with 50 or more employees. By our estimate, such a move would hit wealthier employers and generate nearly $100 million annually. That amount could restore all librarians to schools and double the number of counselors, social workers and school nurses. It could also help protect special education programs that have been adversely affected by reductions in staff and funding. In a city experiencing record levels of violence, there is no better or more necessary investment in children’s lives.

What should the CTU be doing to inform the public about our contract campaign?

CTU members are the best messengers. We live in every community and engage with millions of Chicagoans when you factor in our students and their families, our own neighbors and relatives, and the CTU’s labor, community and education justice partners. The anti-CTU (i.e., anti-teacher) editorials of the Chicago Tribune are read by far fewer people. Further, the Chicago media market is prohibitively expensive so we have to use our resources wisely and create our own, unique networks.

Your union will provide you with much material to start the school year—starting with this FAQ—so you can speak with confidence and more certainty our contract fight. To learn more, please attend one of the three Contract Action Team trainings on September 13, 15 and 17, and make sure your delegate attends the critically important House of Delegates meeting on September 7.

Back to school dreams and nightmares.

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In 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession, I was speaking at a rally in support of striking teachers in Ottawa, Illinois.

Years after I no longer worked at Chicago’s U.S. Steel’s Southworks plant, I would have this stress dream.

In my dream it is twenty years since I had worked at the giant steel mill, but I am walking to the 96″ plate mill that (now  no longer) sits on the far end of the collection of production mills. The wind is bitter and cuts through my clothes. It a freezing cold and windy walk along the lake from the employee parking lot. It is dark and the dead of a bad Chicago winter. 11PM shift.

My oil and grease covered clothes and safety helmet are where I left them, still in my locker.

In this dream I change clothes and put on my metatarsal boots as I had always done. I walk into the shop. Nobody asks where I had been all these years. Nobody has aged. It was as if I had never left.

For years this was a recurring dream.

My teaching stress dream since retirement is that I can recognize every kid that misbehaved. Thirty years of kids that are now all in one class. And I am totally unprepared. I have no plan. I have no supplies. I have no idea what I am supposed to do. It is like my first day on the job and nothing is in my control.

It has been a year since I’ve had that stress dream.

Those were just dreams. The stress on teachers today is real. And it doesn’t come from an imaginary classroom collection of thirty years of misbehaving students.

A 538 report points out that the economic recovery has not come to America’s teachers or its schools.

We are still on our road trip. Talking to an old friend on Long Island who is from Massachusetts, I repeated the fact that only Mississippi spends less as a state on its schools than Illinois.

She was shocked.

“What is the matter with Illinois? I mean only Mississippi is worse?”

As millions of children across the country head back to school this month, they will be returning to schools with fewer teachers than in past years. Those teachers will be paid less, on average. And many of them will be working in school systems that receive less funding.

When I was on Rick Smith’s radio show last week we discussed this.

With legislative constraints on teacher tenure and seniority, veteran teachers are being laid off to save money.

Many district are adding minus-zero steps to their salary schedule, reducing the starting salaries of new teachers and adding to the total number of years a teacher must work until they reach the maximum salary.

Governor Rauner and the Democratic Party-controlled Illinois legislature is threatening a third retirement tier, turning pension over to the private sector with no guarantees of a defined retirement benefit.

The 7-year-old economic recovery has not been kind to the American public education system. In May 2008, as the Great Recession was just beginning, U.S. school departments employed 8.4 million teachers and other workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This past May, they employed just 8.2 million — despite public-school enrollments that the Department of Education estimated have risen by more than 1 million students during the same period. Student-teacher ratios are as high as they’ve been since the late 1990s, though they’re still well below their levels of the 1980s and most of the 1990s.

The staff cuts reflect a broader pullback in education funding in recent years. Public schools actually came through the recession relatively well, as stimulus money from the federal government helped offset cuts at the state and local levels. But federal dollars dried up before states were able to pick up the slack. In 2014, the latest year for which full data is available, state public-education funding was 6.6 percent lower than in 2008. (Local funding, which accounts for about 45 percent of school budgets, was down about 1 percent over the same span.) Federal spending rose, but not enough to overcome the state cuts: Per-student spending fell 2.4 percent after adjusting for inflation. (All spending figures in this story have been adjusted for inflation.)

The Chicago Teachers Union, without a contract for over a year, is threatening a strike if the CPS board sticks to its demand of a 7% pay cut.

During the Great Recession I would hear from those who complained about teacher salary and benefits as they or their family members faced stagnant salaries or job losses.

The truth was that teacher salary increases were never that great. Most of the contracts I saw negotiated in those years after the near-collapse of Wall Street included big increases in health care costs to teachers and district employees.

It is now clear from the 538 report that teachers are now among those not included in whatever counts as the economic recovery.

That is why the pay cut to teacher salaries demanded by Rahm, CEO Forrest Claypool and the CPS board cannot be allowed to stand.

CTU rejects fact finder report and the Zombie Budget Apocalypse.

Fred Klonsky graphic.

Faced with a school system in an economic freefall, an extremist governor fighting to destroy Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and the Illinois educational labor law that has tied his hands, neutral fact finder Steven Bierig today recommended that the parties reconsider an old CPS contract offer that has already been unanimously rejected by the Chicago Teachers Union’s (CTU) bargaining team. This is the same contract offer that even CPS now claims it can no longer afford due to its broke on purpose fiscal policies that have led to zombie budgets decimating public schools. The Union immediately served its Notice of Rejection under Section 12(a-10)(5) of the Educational Labor Relations Act, which means the fact finder’s report is dead letter and the 30-day countdown for a possible strike under Section 13(b)(2.5) begins today.

 “The clock has started,” said CTU President Karen Lewis, who also noted the Union will hold a formal press conference Monday with details to be announced later. “CPS has created this fiscal mess and refuses to go after hundreds of millions of dollars in existing  revenue that is already out there. Our wacked out governor isn’t helping. Hand-in-hand, both will wind up hurting our members and our students in the long-run. We have no choice but to prepare ourselves for a possible strike.”

 The previously-rejected contract proposal made by CPS on January 29 would result in teachers taking home less in earnings at the end of the proposed four-year contract than they earn today; and, educator take home pay would be less on June 30, 2019, than it was on July 1, 2014, when the last CPS raise occurred.  The January 29 proposal also sought to freeze salary steps and lanes, which have been in effect for 50 consecutive years, and eliminate the 7 percent pension pickup, which has been in effect for 35 consecutive years.

 Cutting educator compensation is not the answer to CPS’s extreme financial problems.  The district desperately needs stable, sustainable and increasing revenue to finance its operations.  Without it, the mayor’s handpicked Board of Education can’t afford any contract proposal, even its own.  Mr. Bierig noted in his report that CPS now says it cannot afford its own January 29 proposal anymore.  In his dissent to the neutral fact finder’s report, Union panel member Atty. Robert Bloch noted that “CPS finances have surpassed the danger zone and are now nearly at meltdown.  We need revenue solutions to finance public education, not more cuts to the system, which has already been cut well past the bone and now threatens the vital organs.”

 The fact finder released his report today, followed immediately by the CTU’s notice of rejection. Under the Educational Labor Act, the 30-day countdown for a possible strike begins, meaning the earliest public school educators could withhold their labor is May 16, about a month before the school year ends.  The Union is not required to strike, but it has the right to strike at the conclusion of this 30-day period, provided it first serves upon CPS a 10-day notice of intent to strike. The Union’s membership has already authorized a strike; and, should one be necessary to secure a fair contract, the CTU House of Delegates will deliberate to set the date of the strike.

 Lewis added, “We have to talk to our people. We don’t know if we are going to force the school year to a close now or strike when the next school year begins. Either way, we won’t be held hostage by the Board’s zombie budgets. They need to go after the banks, TIF funds, and other forms of short- and long-term revenue that are sitting right in front of us. If they are serious about helping our students and preserving public education in our city, then they will do everything they can to stabilize our schools—and that does not mean hurting teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians over and over again.”

 Note: Media will be notified Monday of the time and location of the formal news conference to release further details of the CTU rejection of the fact finder’s report. No other comments will be made until that time.