CHICAGO – Chicago Public Schools teachers returned to their classrooms Wednesday with pay raises on the horizon after a seven-day strike, but details on how the cash-strapped district would pay for them remained scarce.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he would not rule out a property tax increase to pay for the double-digit raises laid out in a tentative agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union, but he chose to focus on unidentified cost-saving measures that he said would pay for the deal.
“We will continue to find savings in the central office, continue to do other things we have to do as a city to bring the budget in line,” Emanuel said.
With CPS estimating it will face a $1 billion shortfall next year, one of those “other things” almost certainly will be a plan to close 80 to 120 schools with low enrollment on the city’s South and West sides, sources have told the Chicago Tribune.
Emanuel also had no desire to address that topic Wednesday.
“I can’t sit here and say within the first five minutes of this contract being negotiated that I can tell you exactly what’s going to happen four or five months from now,” Emanuel said while speaking to reporters at Chopin Elementary School in Humboldt Park.
“Look, we have work to do, as we’re every day restructuring, making reforms. We’re looking at everything fresh.”
The mayor wasn’t the only one not offering details on the day teachers returned to work.
Both CPS and the union declined to release copies of the contract that teachers will vote on, though both have released summaries of major provisions.
CPS officials said they still were proofreading and fine-tuning the document, adding that they hoped to have it completed by late this week or early next week.
Bob Bruno, a professor at the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois, said it’s not unusual for an employer and union to decline to release a complete copy of a tentative contract to avoid allowing public pressure or media coverage to jeopardize approval of the deal.
“Those kinds of pressures can pollute or distort things,” Bruno said. “You do want people to have a period of quiet time to reflect, put aside emotions and biases, and consider the document.”
Teachers will formally vote in the coming weeks on the three-year contract proposal, which includes an option that both sides would have to agree to for a fourth year.
That, however, was not on the mind of Kerrie Badalucco, who teaches fifth- through eighth-grade science at Lakeview’s Hamilton Elementary School.
“Today felt like the first day of school again – a day to start fresh,” Badalucco said, adding that she and other teachers at Hamilton made sure to address the strike Wednesday and let students ask questions.
“Before we went on strike, I talked to my students about making sure to watch the news and look at the issue from all points of view,” Badalucco said. “Today we told them, ‘We missed you, but we were fighting for what we thought was right. We hope you understand we had to do this.’”
Parents were busy getting their children back into their routines.
Liz Shirley sat on a North Side sidewalk with her sixth-grader Carter and seventh-grader McClaran early Wednesday morning as they waited for a bus to take them to Lincoln Elementary. Shirley, who works from home, spent the seven missed school days keeping her kids busy with math workbooks and handwriting lessons.
“It’s summer’s over — take two,” Shirley said. “I’ve hit the reset button emotionally. We’re back to routine.”
The seven missed school days will have to be made up. CPS officials said they planned to meet with union leaders to schedule the makeup days and hope to have that determined by January.
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Before the union delegates’ vote Tuesday to end the strike, CPS had filed a lawsuit aimed at forcing teachers back into the classroom.
On Wednesday, CPS lawyers withdrew their motion to halt the strike, but the case was not set for a final dismissal until Oct. 25 – a formality that would give the school district a chance to seek an injunction if circumstances changed.
With the strike over, the debate continued over who won.
The teachers “showed amazing solidarity. They did a very good job of getting their message out. They energized their base,” said Alderman Joe Moore, 49th.
“I don’t see any long-term damage to the mayor, either politically or governmentally, but it seemed to me that he was knocked off his stride a little bit and underestimated the level of anger among the rank and file,” he said.
After a year’s worth of posturing, arguing and negotiating, Emanuel said the fight was worthwhile to lengthen the school day while limiting teachers’ pay increases and bolstering their evaluations.
“When you believe something that is so fundamental … that our kids have been cheated of something, that the system shortchanged them, that is worth fighting for,” Emanuel said. “If you think it’s worth fighting for, then you have to do what you need to do to get it done.”
(Staff writers Hal Dardick, Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Jennifer Delgado, Bridget Doyle and Jason Meisner contributed.)
©2012 Chicago Tribune
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