CHICAGO (AP) — Talk of a possible Chicago teacher strike got louder Wednesday, as the head of the school system blasted a fact-finder's recommendation to give teachers a double-digit raise, saying it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and lead to mass-layoffs and classroom crowding.
"There is no way in the world we can pay $330 million in increases," schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard told reporters at an appearance with school children on the city's West Side, echoing comments mad the day before by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The Chicago School System board, which was hand-picked by Emanuel, is expected to reject the report's findings at a meeting later Wednesday. The board and teachers union would then have 30 days in which to reach a deal before teachers could strike.
Brizard said the two sides continued to negotiate while the fact finder, Edwin Benn, prepared his report. He said "both sides have moved" from their initial bargaining positions, but he declined to discuss what progress had been made. In a sign the sides are still far apart, he noted that the union rejects a proposed annual 2 percent raise in each year of a new four-year contract, and that the CPS rejects the 18 percent first-year raise it says Benn recommended.
In fact, Benn recommended a more than 35 percent wage increase over the next four years, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said.
This may explain why Benn took both sides to task for their unwillingness to compromise. Carroll confirmed Wednesday that Benn's report warned that, "If the parties do not do more to compromise their positions, a crippling strike is inevitable."
Carroll said the CPS would not release the full report until it is rejected by either the CPS or the union.
She also said that there are major flaws in Benn's report — starting with his findings on the effects of a proposed longer school day, which she called "shocking" because she says he wasn't authorized to study the issue.
"He's supposed to look at salaries nationally, what the current fiscal situation is and what teachers have gotten in the past," Carroll said. But she said "it seems clear" he didn't account for key factors, such as the district's looming $665 million budget deficit and Chicago teachers' current average salary, $76,000, which is highest among the 10 largest school districts in the country.
Emanuel has pushed for a longer school day, contending that children in Chicago are getting shortchanged because they spend less time in the classroom than students in any of the other largest U.S. school districts. The district has proposed adding 40 minutes to the 7 hours teachers currently must spend at school.
The union has said that a report that a national report Emanuel has used to make his case does not track actual classroom time and insisted the amount of instruction time was on par with other districts.
This week, teachers union president Karen Lewis has not said whether teachers would be willing to accept a recommendation that would include raising teachers' pay by 15 to 20 percent. But while Brizard said he was "disappointed" with the report, Lewis praised Benn for understanding that the teachers deserve a hefty pay raise if they are being asked to work a longer school day.
She said of the CPS, "They are the ones who wanted a fact finder... . Now they have it."