Claypool proposes replacing pension ‘pickup’ with phased-in pay increases

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CPS CEO Forrest Claypool says he can promise no mid-year layoffs if the teachers union can agree to a four-year deal by the end of January.

Photo by Max Herman

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool says he can promise no mid-year layoffs if the teachers union can agree to a four-year deal by the end of January.

A day after the Chicago Teachers Union announced that its members had overwhelmingly authorized a strike, district leaders put their latest contract offer on the public table.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool told reporters in a media call today that he wants a four-year deal that phases out the so-called pension pickup —  in which CPS pays 7 of the 9 percent union members are required to pay into their pension — and replaces it with gradual pay raises that he says would result in a “net pay increase.”

Claypool says he’s willing to give in to some of the union’s non-economic asks, including a reduction in standardized testing and teacher paperwork, more autonomy in grading and even some changes to teacher evaluations. District and city officials previously had said they  would not bend on how some layoffs are determined based on teacher evaluations — stands that resulted in a breakdown in negotiations last August.

Also on the table: incentives for early retirement. As for the district’s position on the steps-and-lanes pay structure, Claypool would not comment.

If the two sides reach a deal within six weeks, Claypool promises no layoffs in the second semester, although there could still be layoffs in the summer or later down the line. If no deal is reached, there will be mid-year layoffs.

“This would protect the classrooms from disruptive midyear cuts,” said Claypool, who personally presented the contract proposal to the union during negotiations on Monday.

CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey called the district’s proposal “significant” but said he was dismayed that Claypool made details of the proposal public before the union’s  full bargaining team had an opportunity to digest it.*

Sharkey says he suspects district leaders told reporters about their proposal in order to “create a talking point, where if they lay off teachers, they can blame the union. Which is ridiculous because they’re the ones with the $480 million budget deficit for the second half of the year.”

(In August the Board of Education approved an operating budget that relied on $480 million in aid from the state that has yet to materialize.)

For now, Sharkey says, the union’s “big bargaining team” needs to regroup and seriously study the district’s new proposal before heading into another contract negotiation session. And typically, he adds, negotiations taper down around the holidays.

Other plans to cut costs

Claypool repeatedly declined to go into details about the contract proposal to avoid “bargaining in public,” but he said he wanted the public to “understand the general framework” of negotiations.

During the press call, Claypool gave a broad outline of some other plans to cut costs. Among them: eliminating about one-third of the 1,400 or so positions in Central Office before the end of January, which he says should save about $50 million. He also said the district can save about $100 million by “finding efficiencies” in other parts of the district, such as procurement or transportation logistics, although he declined to go into details.

But even with administrative cuts and an agreement from the union, the district would still  have to borrow more money to stay afloat — unless lawmakers in Springfield agree to overhaul the state’s education funding formulas and give Chicago what Claypool has called its “fair share.” Already on Wednesday, the Board of Education plans to vote on recommendations to increase its short-term line of credit by $130 million, and issue another $120 million in bonds.

“If Springfield doesn’t act … borrowing has always been part of the solution,” Claypool said.

The CEO also said he is asking the mayor and City Council to support a dedicated property tax levy to help pay for teacher pension obligations.

*This story was updated at 6:40 p.m. on Dec. 15 to include comments from an interview with Jesse Sharkey.

  • Concerned Parent

    Mr. Claypool would rather keep unnecessary and expensive networks open by firing teachers who work in front or children. Who is he listening to?

  • Concerned Parent

    Hope CTU counters with a demand for a forensic audit of central office and networks. The devil is in the details.

  • Northside

    I think what claypool doesn’t understand is that many teachers have been victims of unethical and vindictive principals. Some CPS teachers are told when they will have their “surprise” evaluations, while others are legitimately caught off guard. Some teachers are given evaluations as a “gotcha” moment. Some principals often use the Reach process as a slow way of demeaning a teacher out of thier job. If a teacher complains, their evaluations just get worse. It is a joke….Again, this is not at all schools, but I have heard many horror stories. If claypool wants to change the schools he needs to address his principals and give teachers a real outlet for complaints against their admins.

    • Concerned Parent

      Principals do what their network chiefs tell them to do.

    • CyKick

      Why would any principal purposely try to get rid of good teachers. If a teacher has a poor eval, then s/he, as in any business, should be given notice to improve or be fired (if that is even POSSIBLE!)

      • Northside

        I assume you don’t work at CPS. Principals have been known to fire teachers for their race, their gender, the political leanings. Of course a bad teacher should be fired. However, did it ever occur to you that some principals have poor job performance themselves. If politicians can be corrupt at the head of governments, why do you think a principal is immune to corruption? Most principals are ethical, but some are not. Also, teacher CAN BE FIRED with two SATISFACTORY evaluations. Yes two satisfactory evaluations becomes an unsatisfactory evaluation at CPS. Principals are human…. and some of them are good, and some of them are bad. To assume all are good or all or bad is very naive. And yes teachers CAN be fired. Again, I assume you havent read the newest contract.

        • CyKick

          I worked at CPS for 30 years.
          I have seen it all.
          Believe me, the teachers’ union has never been on the side of the children or the city.
          “To assume all are good or all or bad is very naive.” -> I never said this.
          “And yes teachers CAN be fired.” -> I am so glad you put “CAN” in capital letters, because despite the poor job performance of district teachers over the last 30 years (the stats corroborate this), so very few have been fired.
          Are you going to blame poor teaching on the principal?

          • Northside

            I simply want to say that the REACH evaluation is like an tool. It can be used as a tool or a weapon. Most principals use it wisely, but some do not. Some principals give teachers a heads up that they will be evaluated, while others are evaluated the first hour after Christmas break. Some principals see that a teacher is having a bad day and decide not to evaluate, while others use any sign of weakness to come and do the classic “gotcha”. And yes principals can make teachers perform badly when they give teachers too many students or withhold resources or create a very low morale environment. Again, most of the time a teacher is “bad” due to their own fault. But please don’t act like EVERY error in the class are the fault of the teacher alone! Were you at teacher? what was your job?

            It does happen. Principals and teachers are BOTH human. So there is bad on both sides. I am a teacher, so I am obviously taking the side of the teacher…but I have seen some pretty sick things on both sides. Also, please read the new contract. An unsatisfactory teacher has 90 day stop shape up or they are fired. So it is very possible…so your dream will come true!!

            BTW are you saying the BBB and some other ADMINS are all on the side of the Children? Really? Last time I checked not one Admin or Teacher at CPS was working on a volunteer basis. So EVERYONE is in it for the money …..
            Some principals look for positive evidence for some teachers and negative from others. Again, I never said I think bad teachers should not be fired. My question is that some teacher are wrongly Evaluated .

      • Harbor Lights

        A teacher who has earned 45 graduate credits IN ADDITION to a masters degree and who has been teaching for 13 years (the last salary bump until her 20th year) earns $86,500 per year. Before you complain, calculate how much in tuition payments would a maters degree PLUS 45 additional graduate credits cost. A first year teacher can be dismissed at will (if they don’t take on a substantial of additional after-school activities) and earn $48,686. Tenure was eliminated when Ron Huberman was CPS CEO. Now you can have your position number changed and be told it is closed, meaning you are no longer employed. That has happened at my school. You can also receive 2-years of “basic” evaluations for non-conforming teachers and then dismissed (this has also happened at my school.) Also, your employment can simply be terminated based on economic reasons as funding is not based on the number of students enrolled and attending school each day. Finally, for the last three summers we have been required to come in and work on the new initiative administrators/district leaders have cooked up (i.e. common core, IB, personalization, etc.) Personally, I have won a statewide and a citywide award for teaching. I am a National Board Certified Teacher. I have a 380/400 teacher rating (mastery level). Yet I am still earning graduate credits (I’ve just completed my 62 graduate credit in ADDITION to my masters degree) so I can become endorsed to teacher special education. Why? Because each moment I live in fear that through no fault of my own either my job or my pension will be taken from me. So for those who think they understand what it is like being a teacher = think again!

        • Concerned Parent

          CPS school-based budgeting deeply exists. Teachers are foolish to go back to school for a masters degree or any graduate credits.

          • Harbor Lights

            That may be true today. But it wasn’t during the length of my time teaching. Raises are based on steps (years) and lanes (additional coursework).

  • Northside

    Am i completely naive or is Rauner withholding 480million so he can do a “Reagan” on any strike. I just get this feeling Rauner is very excited to crush any union so he can be the new “Reagan” conservative hero. And on the other side we have Rahm and Obama…..the self proclaimed “champions” of the children with their teacher bashing and snobby holier than though attitudes. its such a mess.

  • Theodore Konshak

    Unless you are planning to work for the Chicago Public Schools until your retirement, the pension benefits provided to Tier 2 teachers are not worth a 9% employee contribution. They should write a letter to Chicago Public Schools and opt out of participating in the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund.

  • zznoname

    If Claypool lays off, “about” 33% of Central Office positions, before the end of January (or anytime for that matter), that will surely turn heads. Jaws will be dropping everywhere.