|Chicago Union Objects to Higher Teacher Pay|
|posted by: Alix | July 17, 2012, 09:15 PM|
Chicago has been an education reform hotspot ever since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took the reins in January 2011. Everything from length of school day to teacher pay have been hot topics over the last few years; however, this week the issues hit a boiling point as teacher union leaders are expected to reject an arbitrator's recommendation of a 15-20% salary hike in favor of a proposed strike just as the new school year is slated to begin.
Beginning as a bitter debate that made national headlines, Mayor Emanuel's flagship plan of implementing a longer school day is scheduled to begin this fall. While union officials balked at the idea initially, they proposed a 30% salary increase to account for the extra hour a day of instruction time. When the district and the union could not come to a reasonable agreement that accounted for both a struggling financial climate and the increased hours of instruction, an arbitrator was brought in to strike up a compromise between the two parties.
Insiders close to negotiations between the union and the district maintain that both parties will most likely reject the arbitrator's long-awaited fact-finding report. Expected to be released this week, the arbitrator's report is expected to recommend that teacher salaries be increased by 15-20% in the contract's first year, based primarily on the longer school day.
That figure falls well below the 30% raise the union demanded, but is still a significant improvement on the 2% raise the district originally offered teachers. For context, the Chicago Sun-Times reports that compared to other metropolitan areas, Chicago's teachers' salaries currently rank high among the country's 10 largest cities. Absent any salary increases, the district faces an estimated $665 million deficit. Both parties acknowledge that any salary adjustments will most likely lead to teacher layoffs.
In an ironic statement that did not address specifics about the salary debate, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis called the issue complex and "about the students" in every way. "Wages, benefits and job protection are important parts of any labor agreement," Lewis said. "We sincerely want to make the learning conditions better for our students." Despite claiming to be interested in students, the union is expected to call a strike following the arbitrator's recommendations and after the 30 day waiting period–just in time for the school year to start in Chicago.
Regardless of the outcome, the overreaching model of the unions has left Chicago Public Schools in an extremely difficult situation. In the quest to produce better outcomes for students through a longer school day, district officials are now encountering a climate where budget realities will leave them incapable of meeting union demands. Hopefully the situation will be resolved before students return to the classroom next month.
Democrats for Education Reform State Director Rebeca Nieves Huffman maintains hope for a compromise. "There is a silent majority of parents that supports school reform proposals," Huffman stated. "They trust our elected officials; they trust our school district leadership to get it together."
What do you think about the situation in Chicago?