Striking Chicago teachers have been off the job for 5 days now and talks with the school board have virtually broken down. The union keeps demanding a librarian, a nurse, and psychologist for all 550 public schools in the district which would add almost $3 billion to the district’s budget in a city that is desperately trying to find a way to plug an $800 million budget hole.
Borrow the money? Surely you jest. Chicago’s municipal bonds are rated at “junk” or lower. Bailout from the state? Illinois is still trying to recover from the year and a half it operated without a budget.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot can say “There is no money” until the cows come home and the union isn’t listening.
Earlier Monday, Lightfoot sent a letter to union leaders asking for teachers to return to work without a deal as contract talks continued and reiterated her concern that teachers’ demands are unaffordable for the district.
CTU President Jesse Sharkey described Monday’s talks as “taking a turn for the worst,” and said city and district negotiators were following the mayor’s lead.
“She wants us to simply give up on some of the most basic things that we’re asking for, and that’s not the way that labor negotiations work,” he said on Tuesday morning.
The “way that labor negotiations work” is that both sides recognize the realities of the situation and each gives a little. But this isn’t a labor negotiation at all. This is a “social justice” campaign.
One of the teachers’ demands is that the city is supply affordable housing for its 16,000 homeless students and their families, as well as for teachers.
The Chicago union hasn’t released details of its housing proposal — and it’s unclear what changes, if any, such language would require of the city. But it does include a demand that the district put in writing that it supports any potential city and state policies aimed at making housing more affordable.
Union officials have noted city programs that help members of the police and fire department purchase a home. They’ve also referenced approaches to help teachers used elsewhere, including a California school district that’s building affordable housing for teachers and a Colorado program that covers a portion of teachers’ down payment for a home.
Teachers also want more staff dedicated to helping students who are homeless and working with families who are close to losing their housing.
Where can the city find $3 billion? It might start with the school district bureaucracy. The schools were funded at $78 million over last year’s budget — out of a budget of more than $2.5 billion. But school administration received a whopping 14% increase over last year.
The district’s proposed central office budget will increase by 14% to $279 million, and increase from about 900 people at the end of last school year to 1,060 people. Experts say the relative size of Chicago’s education bureaucracy, about 5% of the district’s operating budget, is bigger than other large urban school districts, even as the city has moved toward a more decentralized approach to governing and funding schools.
And the salaries are obscene.
Over 9,000 school administrators earned more than $100,000 per year, and they’ll each receive $3 million or more in pension benefits during their retirements, according to a Illinois Policy Institute analysis. While school districts pay administrators’ salaries and benefits through local property taxes, state taxpayers are on the hook for those pension costs.
The city offered a 16 percent pay raise over 3 years, which was rejected by the union. They offered to fund 250 new positions, including counselors, nurses, and teachers’ aides. It was also rejected.
The teachers are banking on angry parents rising up and demanding the city do something to end the strike. The longer it goes on, the more likely it is to happen.