An arbitrator recommended a big raise for teachers, but school leaders had said they could not afford it. Teachers say they need more job security and smaller classes.
Earlier, at a back-to-school awareness event in Humboldt Park, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said the arbitrator's recommendation of a double-digit percent pay increase for teachers is simply unaffordable.
"There's no way in the world I can pay $330 million in increases, which would mean the laying off of a lot of teachers and increasing class size," said Brizard.
The finding from arbitrator Edwin Benn reportedly recommends a 15 to 20 percent pay hike for teachers next year and an increase over four years of more than 35 percent.
The raises, which take into account a 20 percent longer school day as well as cost of living and seniority bumps are less than what the union wants, but far more than the 2 percent annual raises offered by the district.
According to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who spoke exclusively to ABC7's Charles Thomas Wednesday, the fact-finder's recommended raises are far more than the city can afford.
"I would love to pay teachers 18 percent, 20 percent - the taxpayers aren't making that kind of bonus to do that. That's why I don't think this report is tied to reality," said Emanuel.
The board is facing a projected $665 million budget shortfall next year. It says paying the proposed increased salaries would require teacher layoffs and increase class sizes.
"Our revenue declined last year, and we're forecasting that it will decline again this fiscal year," said Chicago School Board President David J. Vitale.
"My hope was that the arbitrator's report would give us a middle ground that both CPS and CTU could work from and come to consensus. Clearly what came back to us has been a disappointment," said Brizard.
The report also calls for eliminating a teacher merit pay system proposed by CPS.
A strike could be launched legally on August 17th, although CPS and the union have indicated they will keep talking. Classes are scheduled to begin August 13th.
"I ask you not to vilify us at all, I don't want to be the villain, don't separate me from the children of the Chicago Public Schools when you talk about teachers," said CPS teacher Miriam Ruiz.
Teachers left Wednesday night's union meeting resolved to continue their negotiations with the school board for a new contract after unanimously rejecting the independent fact-finder's proposal. Their vote came just minutes after the school board also voted to reject the proposal.
"The board thought that they were gonna come out ahead, and I think that both sides are equally unhappy," said teacher Howard Heath.
Some CPS parents are worried.
"They can avoid a strike if they both come to an agreement and do what's in the best interest of the kids," said parent Rosemary Smith.
"I... think it's very important that the teachers are compensated for extending their days," said parent Kecia Waldschmidt. "Without any fair compensation, that's not going to work for them."
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been critical, calling the raise too generous given the city's budget crisis and the $655 million deficit that the school district is dealing with this year.
"The report at a 35-percent raise over three years is not tethered to reality," said Emanuel. "I believe everybody to be properly compensated, but I don't believe you have a system that doesn't give our kids what they need."
The teachers union has not said whether it will accept or reject the arbitrator's nonbinding decision. But union leaders agreed with the arbitrator, who says teachers should get paid more for moving to a longer school day.
"The fact finder has determined that CPS's longer day amounts to a 19.4-percent increase on average that teachers will have to work," said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.
Rejections could raise the pressure in contract negotiations and push teachers a step closer to a threatened strike.
Union officials say the arbitrator's proposal failed to address issues important to them such as class size and job security, which is why they rejected it. They say, however, that it was the board that wanted an arbitrator in the first place, and now the board is unhappy with the results.
"Let's get out of 'Burger King mode,' when they think they can have it their way, and let's work together to actually put the bones to this contract," said Lewis.
Lewis says rejecting the independent proposal allows the teachers and the board to write their own contract rather than accepting one from a third party. While the union could legally go on strike as of August 17th, she says she believes the two sides can come up with a deal before that.
The school board and Chicago Teachers Union met separately Wednesday afternoon.
Related documents (PDF)