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Chicago Negotiators Meet To Head Off Teachers' Strike

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Negotiators for the Chicago Teachers Union and the city's board of education, assisted by federal mediators, continued to meet late last week in an effort to avoid a teachers' strike that was to begin Nov. 18.

With no new source of money available to give teachers raises this year, the best hope for heading off the job action appeared to rest with the Chicago School Finance Authority and the school board.

Jackie Gallagher, a spokesman for the c.T.u., said the union was hoping that Mayor Richard M. Daley would pressure the finance authority to allow the school system to use $35 million in reserve money to provide money for raises. Recent polls have indicated that Chicago voters are unhappy with the Mayor's perceived distance from the city's school-reform efforts.

"Being a reputation-conscious mayor, we can't imagine he's not going to try to be a hero" in resolving the labor dispute, Ms. Gallagher said.

She added that the union had made it clear that it was not holding out for the full 7 percent that the teachers were supposed to receive this year under their current contract.

General Superintendent Ted D. Kimbrough also appealed to Chicago leaders last week, calling on "any and everyone with influence with the School Finance Authority or other entities to help resolve this."

"It's up to them," Mr. Kimbrough said in a statement. "They know the situation."

Ms. Gallagher said the union also hoped that Mayor Daley would pressure the school board to reconsider its $2.3-billion budget and come up with money that could be used for teachers' salaries.

"We keep saying that with a $2.3-billion budget, somewhere along the line there should be a place where there can be excess money discovered," Ms. Gallagher said.

Budget Cuts Suggested

Several advocacy groups have prepared alternative budgets showing how the school board could afford to provide teachers with raises, although not the full 7 percent.

They have recommended, for example, that the board cut back on central and district administration, reduce the amount it holds in reserve for teaching positions that are not filled, and freeze all non-school staff salaries.

Ms. Gallagher said the union supports closing 13 district offices that she said "serve no purpose" under the city's school-reform effort, which is attempting to transfer decision-making power to the city's 540 school sites.

School officials had hoped to come away from a recent short session of the Illinois General Assembly with more money for the schools, but their efforts were unsuccessful.

Initially, the school board sought permission for more flexibility in spending money for textbooks and school playgrounds that would have yielded more money for raises, but no such legislation was introduced.

Then Gov. Jim Edgar and Mayor Daley proposed a bill that would have given the finance authority increased control over the school system in return for releasing $17.5 million over the next two years that could be used to pay teachers.

The Chicago school board opposed the bill, arguing that it would mean the finance authority would run the school system. The legislation also ran into stiff opposition from members of the legislature's black caucus, who had similar objections.

The bill would have allowed the finance authority to review all board contracts, approve or reject the chief finance officer of the school district, maintain separate bank accounts, approve a three-year plan for operating the schools, and reorganize the district's financial accounts and budgetary system.

Critics have argued that the interim school board that signed the current contracts with the C.T.U. and other labor unions knew that the district did not have the money to provide the increases.

A group of parents held a press conference last week to challenge the Mayor to take an active role in resolving the dispute. They argued that a strike would damage school-reform efforts by splitting the alliance that some parents have formed with teachers on behalf of improving the schools.

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