Chicago Teachers: Truth time

Most will probably remember the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike that got nationwide attention last fall. When Mayor Rahm Emanuel came into office in May 2011, one of his most ambitious reforms was trying to extend the Chicago Public School (CPS) day. Until recently, the CPS school day was a mere 5 hours and 45 minutes – ranking last among the 10 largest cities in the U.S


Emanuel argued that the city was unfairly shortchanging CPS students in instructional time, resulting in fewer future opportunities for them. He proposed extending the elementary school day to 7 hours and 30 minutes.

The CTU, in turn, then demanded a 30% salary raise. Keep in mind that CPS is a system where the average salary for teachers is $76,450 a year, compared to the $53,976 made by the average private sector employee, where their graduation rate is barely half (55%), and where only 6 out of every 100 children in a system responsible for over 400,000 children will go on to earn a bachelor’s degree by the time they are 26-years-old. A 30% raise would’ve brought the average median salary to around $100,000 for a profession that works 170 days out of the year.

Meanwhile, the CPS system was facing a budget deficit of $665 million in the $5.73 billion 2012-2013 fiscal year. To close it, Emanuel had to raise property taxes, cut costs anywhere possible, and completely drain all the CPS’s cash reserves.

Emanuel even scaled back his longer school day proposal from 7 and a half hours to just 7 hours in an effort to negotiate, but CTU boss Karen Lewis wouldn’t budge. So instead, Emanuel decided to hire an additional 477 teachers to fill in the longer school day with programs that are always on the chopping block such as music, art, foreign language, and physical education, which delivered students a longer school day without requiring CPS teachers to work longer hours.

Basically, there was no money left. Yet not only did the CTU not back down from its salary raise demands, but they were also demanding unprecedented administrative powers that are traditionally reserved for the CPS, including managerial rights, job security guarantees, and a scaling back of teachers evaluations based on standardized test scores.

Ultimately, Mayor Emanuel caved, because unions own the Democratic Party – funding their elections and campaigning for them. Not only were teacher evaluations kept based on a checklist rather than standardized test scores, but CTU teachers also received a 17.6% raise – bringing their total average salary to $89,900 today.

Meanwhile, on the statewide level, out of control public pension costs are drowning Illinois in red ink. The state’s total unfunded pension liability now stands at $203 billion, ranking Illinois as theworst funded pension system in America according to the Pew Research Center. Illinois also owes $43.8 billion more than the net value of all its assets combined, leaving us with the worst deficit in the nation, again due largely to public sector pension costs according to the state’s Auditor General. This has resulted in Illinois seeing its credit rating cut repeatedly by all major credit rating agencies, ranking us … you guessed it, dead last in the nation.

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