CPS, CTU reach partial agreement in contract talks

July 24, 2012

CPS and CTU announced a partial agreement in ongoing teacher contract negotiations on Tuesday, with the union accepting the lengthening of the school day and the district saying it will hire 477 teachers, giving preference to teachers displaced over the past two years.

With these extra teachers and some scheduling changes, such as eliminating a morning prep time and putting lunch for teachers back into the middle of the day, the workday for elementary school teachers won’t be lengthened and will be only slightly longer for high school teachers.

While both sides declared victory, they also said numerous issues still need to be resolved and that a strike was still a possibility.

“We have a 98 percent strike authorization vote, and that has not changed,” CTU President Karen Lewis said. “We have a long way to go before the contract is settled, but this is a very good start.”

“We are still looking at healthcare, pay, evaluations, discipline, clinician staffing,” Lewis said, naming – in addition to raises – a litany of issues that CPS isn’t required to bargain about with the union.

Lewis would not say how this agreement impacts the union’s salary demands. Citing the longer workday among other things, CTU had asked for nearly a 30 percent pay increase. CPS had offered about 2 percent.

CPS officials did not say how they planned to pay for the additional teachers, which they estimate to cost $40 to $50 million. The proposed CPS budget empties the reserves and makes program cuts to fill a $665 million deficit. With no reserves, the budget leaves little wiggle room.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel shrugged off the question of how he can afford the additional teachers. “The question is how can we afford not to do it,” he said.

Board President David Vitale said it is now time for district leadership to “get to work” to find savings. There’s also a possibility that Emanuel and his team will have to make more costly concessions to the union.  

Still, Emanuel and his team declared victory. He said he was never prepared to compromise on the issue of the longer school day.

“A longer school day has been a goal and a topic of negotiations before,” he said. “But each time students took a back seat.”

Union leadership also saw the agreement as a win. Since the beginning of negotiations in November, CTU leaders said they wanted additional art, music and physical education teachers. They stressed that students shouldn’t only have a longer school day, but also a “better school day.”

With the additional teachers, each school should have at least 1.5 teachers providing art, music or other enrichment classes, Lewis said.

CPS officials said the details of how the teachers will be allocated have yet to be worked out and that principals will have the discretion to decide what type of teacher they need, whether it be a reading coach or a dance teacher.

Another victory for the union was the district’s agreement to give preference in hiring for these positions to displaced teachers. If three displaced teachers apply for one of the positions, then the principal will have no choice but to hire one of them, under the agreement, Vitale said.

The deal only applies to displaced teachers with satisfactory or better ratings. Also, the teacher will be on probation for a semester and the job is only guaranteed for a year.

With yearly school closings, the issue of displaced teachers is a big one. CTU fought a legal battle to ensure broader protections for them, but lost.

The announcement that the longer day was not in jeopardy as contract negotiations are ongoing brought statements from advocacy groups that support it. 

Stand for Children was planning to hold a press conference Wednesday morning to urge CPS and CTU not to forsake the longer school day. Now, they are partnering with Education Reform Now Advocacy to applaud the agreement.

“It’s time for both sides to finish the job and finalize a contract,” said Rebeca Nieves Huffman, Illinois State Director of Democrats for Education Reform, an affiliated group. “As we have always said, teachers have a difficult and critically important job and they deserve a raise, but it must be a compromise that taxpayers can afford.”

“As negotiations continue, we hope that both the CTU and CPS will continue to put students first and protect the critical investments our students need like the longer school day, funding for charter schools and maintaining class size.”