Chicago teachers protest $5.4 billion CPS budget

ByStacey Baca and Laura Podesta via WLS logo
Thursday, August 25, 2016
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Chicago Teachers Union members marched in the rain as the CPS board voted on the district's budget.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Chicago Public Schools board unanimously approved Wednesday a $5.4 billion budget for the district which is expected to increase Chicago property taxes.

The fiscal year 2017 budget is contingent on several factors, including $200 million from the state, which must pass pension reform by January, and on $30 million in concessions from the Chicago Teachers Union, which members are not happy about.

Gov. Bruce Rauner said he would "try my darndest" to get pension reform done by January. And CTU concessions are also uncertain.

In fact, CTU said they will likely strike in mid-October if they don't get a new contract. The union's leadership and delegates will hold a phone meeting on Thursday.

Undeterred by Wednesday morning's rain, Chicago teachers marched on the sidewalk in front of CPS headquarters chanting, "They say cut back. We say fight back!"

"We're very concerned. A lot of positions, especially for special education. There were vacancies before this school year started and they closed those vacancies," said Maria Moreno, CTU financial secretary.

This year's CPS budget is bigger than last year. But CTU said it's still not enough money - specifically for special education students.

Many teachers and parents spoke out during the meeting, concerned about fewer teachers and expanding access to pre-kindergarten services.

"We're seeing CPS shuffle money from pre-K education to K-12 education, instead of using those dollars as intended," said Brynn Seibert, Service Employees International Union.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bitner said there are more teacher job vacancies than layoffs. CPS still has 700 openings they are looking to fill for this school year.

Teachers said they will work on Sept. 6, the first day of school for CPS. But teachers also said they aren't afraid to strike to avoid cuts.

"It's going be a cut in salary. Teachers don't get social security, so it's their retirement - what they expect after working many years," Moreno said.

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool thanked taxpayers for shouldering the burden of another property tax increase. He also said he hopes a strike will not dampen the CPS community's spirit, especially at the beginning of the school year.

"Our hope now is to reach a final agreement with the CTU so that once school begins our children can remain in the classroom where they belong," Claypool said.

The Civic Federation called the CPS budget "out of balance" because of the uncertain funding.