For the Record: Details on fact-finder’s report

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Now that CPS and the CTU have both rejected an outside fact-finder’s recommendations for a settlement in teacher contract negotiations, a resolution will have to come at the bargaining table. The report offers a glimpse into the issues at play–and sounds a clear warning of a looming strike. 

 “At present, these parties are worlds apart and if the parties do not do more to compromise their positions, a crippling strike is inevitable,” Benn wrote, characterizing the relationship between the district and the union as “toxic.”

Benn blamed the district for imposing a longer school day during a fiscal crisis, and for withholding last year’s contractually-required 4% raise. But he also pointed out that teachers nevertheless received hefty raises in the just-expired contract and chided the CTU for “not compromising further on economic issues when it did so well.”

The 115-page report includes the formal written responses from fact-finding panel members Joseph Moriarty, the board’s member; and Jesse Sharkey, the union’s member.

Here are details and highlights on specific issues:

Contract length: Benn agreed with the district, which wants a 4-year contract, and cited the need for stability. He also recommended scrapping provisions in the just-expired contract that allowed the district to withhold last year’s raises. The union wants a two-year contract.

Pay increases: In addition to the 15% recommended raise for a longer day, Benn declined to accept the board’s proposal to scrap step and lane increases in favor of a performance-based pay plan. Though he acknowledged that such a plan might be a good idea, he said that the board had no evidence that the current pay system is “broken” and in need of such a sweeping change under the fact-finding panel.

As for the longer day raises, district officials are taking a hard line and asserting that the fact-finder overstepped his bounds: Under a provision of Senate Bill 7, CPS says, Benn illegally made a recommendation on an issue that can only be resolved in bargaining. Yet Benn wrote in his report that the question of additional pay for a longer day is “the elephant in the room” that had to be addressed.

Under the provisions in SB7 governing the fact-finder, Benn was to consider pay in other urban districts in his salary recommendation. The district, which often says that CPS teachers are among the best-paid among urban districts, and the union both submitted lists of large districts to consider. But Benn, saying the economic recession had a vastly different impact on different cities, chose to rely on the cost-of-living indicator instead.

Health care: Benn agreed with the district’s proposal to require teachers to pay more for health insurance, a proposal that raises family coverage at a higher rate. He cited health care costs for CPS that soared to $354 million in 2011 from $251 million in 2007. But he also said the matter should be revisited in two years, given the unknown impact of federal health care reform on insurance costs in general.

Depending on the health plan selected, coverage for an individual under the district’s proposal would continue to be capped at 2.2% of a teacher’s salary; coverage for couples would rise from 1.5%-2.5% to 1.7%-2.8%; and coverage for families would increase from 1.8%-2.8% to 2.3%-3.5%. The district also wants to increase co-payments for emergency room visits from $125 to $150.

Benn did not endorse the CPS proposal to have teachers on extended leaves of absence pay COBRA rates for insurance instead of the ordinary contribution paid by active employees. Benn said the board presented no evidence that employees have abused the extended-leave health benefit.

Sick leave: CPS estimates it will pay out $52 million in 2012 for unused sick leave to departing employees and wants to scrap a policy that allows workers to “bank” unused sick days. Instead, the board proposes adding a short-term disability benefit that will kick in after 10 days of illness. Benn agreed, but only if CPS and CTU can agree on how to compensate long-term employees who have accumulated substantial amounts of unused sick days.

Displaced teacher’s pool: The union wants job security and recall rights for laid-off teachers, saying that veterans should have preference over rookie teachers for new job openings. Benn declined to recommend the union’s proposal, saying that job security should be negotiated in the bargaining process.

Working conditions: The union raised other issues, such as reducing class sizes and staffing for non-classroom teachers, and has said that it is fighting for additional resources for students, like nurses and social workers. Benn declined to weigh in, saying changes must come through bargaining.