Chicago School Board Asking Teachers To Forgo 7 Percent Raises

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The Chicago Board of Education, after completing a tumultuous round of budget cuts that threatened to delay the opening of the city's schools, has begun negotiating with the Chicago Teachers Union to forgo the 7 percent raises teachers were to receive this year.

In balancing the school system's $2.3-billion budget, beard members assumed that they would succeed in extracting the wage concessions from the teachers' union and the 19 other unions that represent school system employees.

Last spring, due in large part to the raises negotiated by the city's interim board of education, Superintendent Ted D. Kimbrough announced that the school system was facing a record $315.8-million budget deficit. (See Education Week, May 28, 1991 .)

Late last month, the Chicago School Finance Authority, which oversees the school district's budget, rejected a budget that included $35 million that the district was to have paid back into a reserve fund. The rejection triggered another round of last-minute budget cuts that had Chicagoans wondering whether schools would open as scheduled on Sept. 4.

The Chicago Teachers Union also began making preparations for a strike after the school board talked about cutting the bonus money teachers receive for taking extra college courses, according to Jackie Gallagher, the union president's assistant for communications.

But Ms. Gallagher said any such discussions have been put on hold because the school board dropped that proposal and is only seeking to renegotiate the salary increases, which would save the district an estimated $78 million. The teaching contract contains a clause calling for the increases to be renegotiated if the school district cannot afford them.

Little Strike Talk

Members of the union's policymaking House of Delegates have been "extremely cautious about talking strike," Ms. Gallagher said. "Most of them don't want to strike, they want to teach."

In its first several rounds of budget-cutting, the school board announced it would eliminate some 400 teaching jobs, cut 300 central office positions, and close six schools and seven vocational-guidance centers. It also slashed the amount budgeted for school supplies and equipment by 90 percent.

After the finance authority rejected the proposed budget, the school beard cut a special reading-improvement program for low-income students; cut summer-school programs for high-school and special-education students; and eliminated a health-benefit subsidy for retired employees, among other cuts.

Superintendent Kimbrough and members of the school board came under severe criticism from members of the finance authority, politicians, and the various community groups that support Chicago school reform for their handling of the school system's deficit.

"The feeling is that this is going to be very detrimental to reform, this kind of brinkmanship every year," said Abha Pandya, a policy associate with Designs for Change, a school-advocacy group.

Deficit Figure Disputed

Last week, monitoring groups throughout the city had just received final copies of the district's budget. Until independent evaluations of the budget cutbacks are completed, observers said, the impact of the reductions is difficult to gauge.

G. Alfred Hess Jr., executive director of the Chicago Panel on Public School Policy and Finance, said he believes that the school board and superintendent inflated their original estimate of the budget deficit in what Mr. Hess called a "Chicken Little strategy" to try to get more money for the school system from the city and state.

Mr. Hess said the district's $315-million deficit figure did not take into account new revenues the school district will receive this year, and that it also included "wished for" positions and programs that never have been funded.

Ms. Pandya, who expressed similar concerns, said that by "playing with the numbers" the school beard and superintendent had further jeopardized any chance of getting more money for Chicago schools.

Linda Matsumoto, the school district's press secretary, did not return calls for comment last week.

Mr. Hess said he estimated the district's actual deficit to have been between $200 million and $250 million.

He also noted that the number of people working in schools will increase this year by 1,600, which Mr. Hess said was "far from devastating the system."

The new positions will be paid for out of $191 million in discretionary money that is now flowing to the schools, instead of the central office, because of the reform legislation.

And although the cuts in supplies will hurt schools, Mr. Hess said, the amount of money lost is significantly less than the schools are bringing in for new projects supported by individuals and corporations that have been galvanized by the reform experiment.

Meanwhile, Chicago residents and school advocates are preparing for the Oct. 8 elections of new members of the local school councils that govern each of the city's schools.

Vol. 11, Issue 03, Page 8

Published in Print: September 18, 1991, as Chicago School Board Asking Teachers To Forgo 7 Percent Raises
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