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Edgar Compromise On Hold as Chicago Crisis Lingers

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Illinois lawmakers, hamstrung by the ongoing Chicago school-finance drama, decided last week to postpone talks about a proposed compromise until after Gov. Jim Edgar announces his re-election bid.

Observers said Democrats would not mind allowing the Republican Governor's announcement, expected this week, to be colored by the same cloud that has enveloped lawmakers all fall.

In that spirit, top Democrats decided last week that the legislature should put off consideration of a compromise finance plan offered late last month by Mr. Edgar and some Republican legislative leaders.

The Chicago school district faces a $298 million budget shortfall and is operating under a federal judge's order. (See Education Week, Oct. 20, 1993.)

As the issue remained in political limbo last week, a spokesman for the leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate said Mr. Edgar's compromise plan would win the backing of his party. But officials were still awaiting a Democratic counter-offer that would launch a serious debate.

Under Mr. Edgar's plan, the state would not resort to borrowing from teacher-pension funds, but would increase school-bonding authority.

Work-Rule Changes Sought

The plan would increase bonds issued by the Chicago school-finance authority from $276 million to $386 million and order a referendum on a local property-tax increase by June 1995.

Mr. Edgar's plan also would release almost 400 teachers who are now guaranteed employment even though their jobs have been eliminated; create an inspector general for the district; and allow for work-rule changes at schools beginning in 1995 if approved by a simple majority of teachers, rather than the currently required 63.5 percent.

Top Democrats and leaders of local teachers' and government employees' unions oppose the work-rule changes, which would be implemented after a newly negotiated agreement between the district and teachers expires. Leaders of the House, controlled by Democrats, called Mr. Edgar's plan an intrusion into collective bargaining.

Officials said the Governor's plan would also grant principals broader authority over school employees.

As top lawmakers wait for alternatives from Democrats, who earlier advocated borrowing $110 million from the pension fund, many lawmakers last week were expressing frustration over the continued inaction.

"We saw this at the end of the session, with settlement on the budget being done by a handful of people and then put on our plate with a take-it-or-leave-it kind of direction,'' Rep. John A. Ostenburg remarked.

"This is the session that will not end,'' Sen. Penny Severns said.

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