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Chicago teachers, Emanuel cut deal and avert strike

By Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY

The Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration on Monday brokered a last-minute, tentative deal on a new teachers contract and averted the possibility of a strike.

The deal went down to the wire as the teachers union, which represents some 28,000 teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians in the nation’s third largest school system, had set a midnight Oct. 11 deadline to reach a new contract.

The city’s teachers have worked without a contract for more than a year.

Emanuel administration officials and the union had been at an impasse over whether the cash-strapped district should continue the long-standing arrangement of picking up the bulk of teachers’ required pension contributions.

Currently, the teachers contribute 2% of their salaries to their pensions and the school system contributes an additional 7%. The pension pickup costs the district about $130 million annually.

Under the tentative deal, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said teachers currently in the system will continue to receive the pension contribution from the city, but new hires will have the pickup phased out. The deal also includes raises in the third and fourth years of the contract, Lewis said.

“It’s not a perfect agreement as anyone would tell you, but it was good,” said Lewis, who said the deal still needs to be approved by the union’s house of delegates and full membership.

In January, Chicago Public Schools and the union’s leadership settled on a tentative offer that included an 8.75% base salary raise over four years, but the union’s larger 40-member bargaining team rejected it because of the pension pickup phase out. The median salary for city school teachers is $77,885, according to the school system.

The union wanted a new contract that included no cuts to benefits, guarantees on job security and an increase in spending on the school district’s roughly 380,000 students by $200 million.

Emanuel, who recently backed a $250 property tax hike to help plug a pension system that has $10 billion in liabilities, called the deal a good one for the teachers, students and taxpayers.

“Chicago Public Schools’ finances will be stronger and on firmer ground because of this agreement,” Emanuel said. “Parents and taxpayers will be relieved and more importantly, reassured that we all came together to work together for a common purpose, and students across Chicago will be in school this morning and path to a brighter future.”

Union officials pushed for Emanuel to find additional revenue from the city’s 146 tax-increment financing districts, which this year have a surplus of about $113 million. The Emanuel administration already allots the bulk of revenue from the special taxing areas, known as TIFs, to the schools. It was unclear how much, if any, additional TIF money the Emanuel administration has committed to use on schools.

A few dozen members of the Parents 4 Teachers coalition canvassed the blocks around Emanuel’s home on Monday afternoon, calling on the mayor’s neighbors to press him to use more TIF money to fund the schools.

“There is money being set aside for developers that could be used to develop our schools instead,” said Erica Hade, a mother of three children in the city school district.

In 2012, the union walked out of the classroom in a strike that lasted seven days, marking the first work stoppage in the city in 25 years.

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