Chicago school board, teachers reject report

CHICAGO (AP) — A fact finder's recommendation to give Chicago teachers a double-digit raise was rejected Wednesday by both the city's teachers union and the governing board of the Chicago public school system, paving the way for a teacher strike.

The 6-0 vote by the school board came about an hour after the union vote. The union cited classroom quality issues in its vote, while school board officials cited the district's financial difficulties.

"Quite simply, the board does not have the resources to accept the fact finder's recommendation," Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale said.

But he was optimistic that both sides could reach a deal. Vitale noted that the district and the union have used collective bargaining for 25 years without a strike, and said "it is a record I believe we both want to extend."

Both sides now have 30 days to reach a deal before teachers could strike. District leaders and teachers gave different figures for the recommended raise, but it's somewhere between 14 and 19 percent.

Earlier Wednesday, Chicago schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard told reporters that the two sides had continued to negotiate while the fact finder, Edwin Benn, prepared his report. Brizard blasted the fact-finder's recommendation on a teacher 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," Brizard said at an appearance with school children on the city's West Side, echoing comments made the day before by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The Chicago Teachers Union's House of Delegates unanimously rejected the report. CTU president Karen Lewis said teachers want smaller class sizes and "a rich curriculum that includes art music foreign language and physical education." She told teachers to "stay tuned."

Brizard had 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: "If the parties do not do more to compromise their positions, a crippling strike is inevitable."

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 of $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.

In a statement after Wednesday's votes, the mayor reiterated the need for an extended school day and urged both sides to work out a deal so schools could open on time in the fall.

"I believe that all parties can work together in good faith to reach a fair agreement for our taxpayers, teachers and our students that ensures students are in class on day one with a full school day," Emanuel said.

The union has said that a national report Emanuel has used to make his case does not track actual classroom time. The union insisted the amount of instruction time was on par with other districts.

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.

"They are the ones who wanted a fact finder," she said of district officials. "Now they have it."