Striking Chicago Teachers Reject Pay Officer, But Talks Continue

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School and union officials in Chicago last week continued negotiations in late\night sessions over the teachers' request for a pay increase of an undisclosed amount.

The school system's 28,000 teachers went on strike Dec. 3, giving the 450,000 children in the nation's third-largest school district an early holiday.

Another 12,000 school employees, who also were on strike or were honoring the picket lines, did not report to work last week. Only about 1,200 people, mostly administrators, were at the schools.

In addition to requests for wage increases, a major point of contention in the contract disputes has been the school board's decision to require most employees to pay part of their medical benefits. On Nov. 16, the administration began deducting the funds from employees' paychecks. (See Education Week, Oct. 24, 1984.)

Last-Minute Offer

Although school officials agreed shortly before the strike to restore the medical benefits to the teachers--to reimburse them for the money withheld from their paychecks and to increase salaries at a rate linked to new money the state is expected to allocate to Illinois public schools this month--the union rejected the offer.

Jacqueline Vaughn, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, told reporters last week that the offer was "too little, too late."

School officials had asked the teachers to forgo a pay increase this year, pointing to the school system's limited funding resources and balanced-budget requirement.

"The board's stand is that we're underfunded, the money isn't there," said Bob Saigh, director of information for Chicago Public Schools. "Apparently, the teachers don't believe that."

Of the school system's $1.5-billion budget, 89 cents of every dollar is spent on salaries and benefits for school personnel, Mr. Saigh said.

The average teaching salary in the district is $26,257, about 30 percent less than that in the suburban school systems, union officials said.

Tax-Amnesty Program

School officials were only able to restore benefits and offer a salary increase after it became clear that the state's tax-amnesty program would provide the district with a significant amount of additional funding for this school year.

The amnesty program, which allowed delinquent taxpayers to pay back taxes with reduced penalties during a two-month period that ended Nov. 30, has increased state revenue by $42 million.

The General Assembly last summer appropriated $20 million in anticipated amnesty funds for public schools.

Legislation adopted by the Senate and pending in the House would earmark another $22.7 million from the amnesty windfall for schools.

Because the Chicago school system is so large, it receives about one-third of all state funds for education, according to David Fields, a spokesman for Gov. James R. Thompson. The school system also will receive one-third of any tax-amnesty money earmarked for education.

The Governor supports the tax-amnesty legislation before the House, according to Mr. Fields, but did not support proposed legislation to give all of the tax-amnesty windfall to the Chicago Public Schools. That measure was defeated by three votes in the House late last month. (See Education Week, Dec. 5, 1984.)

The Governor would like to see the strike in Chicago end as soon as possible, Mr. Fields said.

"He was a little unhappy that things have gone on this long," Mr. Fields noted, and was also "not very happy" that his 6-year-old daughter, who attends a Chicago school, was at home last week.

Board's Proposal

The school board's proposal to the teachers was to link any salary increase to the amount of funding provided by the tax-amnesty program. The state legislature is expected to vote this week on just how much of the windfall will be allocated to the schools.

If the teachers are awarded a salary increase that requires funding above what is provided by the tax-amnesty program, the board will be forced to make cuts in the personnel and instructional-materials budgets and that will probably increase the budget deficit the system will face next school year, Mr. Saigh said.

Other Negotiations

Both school and union officials have said they expect this year's strike to be shorter than the 15-day strike that took place last fall.

However, Mr. Saigh said, contract negotiations with some of the other unions representing school employees are not progressing as quickly as those with the teachers' union. Even if the teachers settle quickly, he said, the other disputes could extend the students' early vacation even further.

Vol. 04, Issue 15

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