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Chicago teachers are unlikely to garner much sympathy from average Americans regarding their current demands. According to the CPS, the average pay for teachers–without benefits–is $76,000. The union claims it is $5,000 lower, but either way, they’re the second-highest or highest paid teachers in the nation. Nevertheless, CTU attorney Robert Bloch still attempted to elicit sympathy for his members. “When you’re looking at compensation, it’s not enough just to look at salary, because Chicago Public Schools teachers have to pay more for their insurance, and they get less of a contribution from the employer for their pension than in other cities,” he said. Bloch also claimed per-pupil pay is lower in Chicago than other cities. “Working conditions are part of everyone’s job, we all think about working conditions,” he added.
Civic Federation president Laurenence Msall offered a rebuttal. “It’s math. It’s not really politics, as much as it gets caught up in politics. The financial situation of the Chicago Public Schools is dire. The situation of the State of Illinois that provides significant funding to the Chicago Public Schools is dire,” he said. “The property tax payers in Chicago are beleaguered. They’re seeing a drop in their property values, and to be asking them to pay increased property taxes, so we can fund increased salaries for employees is something that’s gonna be a very tough political sell.”
Tough may be an understatement. Last March, despite cost cutting, layoffs and restructuring that took place in 2012 the CPS projected a $600-700 million budget shortfall for 2013. And that’s before the cost of a longer school day was factored in. In July, CPS released a $5.16 billion budget, met in part by completely draining its reserves of nearly $400 million. Ominously that budget assumed the CTU would settle for the two percent raises they are currently rejecting. Budget deficits projects were accurate at $665 million. The budget was approved on August 22nd.
The deficit may balloon to well over $1 billion by 2014. That’s when the district’s four-year “pension holiday” expires and it will have to resume making full pension payments, according to CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll, who expects those pension costs to increase that year by almost $340 million.
Regardless, the teachers union held a rally yesterday at Daley Plaza. Their website contended that it was about ”the current climate of scapegoating union workers in an attempt to force us all to accept contract givebacks,” further noting that its members and the services they provide are “under attack!”
For perspective sake, it should be noted that last year represented a “record breaking” one in terms of student graduation in Chicago. Just under 61 percent of the students enrolled as freshmen in the 2007-2008 school year received a diploma–meaning almost four-in-ten did not. Furthermore, the Chicago Sun Times claims the CPS has calculated graduation rates “based on how many freshmen graduate within five years, for 14 years,” despite a state requirement to calculate four year rates for official counts sent to parents. Last June, CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler told Catalyst Chicago this could provide “great momentum going into next year.” Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard called the results “impressive.”
Perhaps in the world of unionized public school education, such graduation rates are impressive. Yet even such “success” stories obscure the fact that American students are falling behind their peers in other countries. A report recently published by Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance reveals the American students are being significantly out-gained by those in foreign countries. Michelle Rhee, former D.C. schools chancellor who currently heads Students First, notes that critical reforms are necessary because ”our education system can’t compete with the rest of the world.”
It gets even tougher to compete when teachers go on strike.
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