Karen Lewis Grades CPS' Budget Math

Chicago Public Schools on Monday unveiled a $5.7 billion operating budget that calls for more than 400 teacher layoffs and banks on $480 million in state aid that hasn’t been approved by state lawmakers.

“The moneys that they claim are there aren’t really there, and how do you budget when you’ve got a $500 million hole?” Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis said to reporters Monday. “So you’re going to start school and in November you run out of money? Now what?”

Tuesday, we’ll talk with Lewis about the district’s budget proposal and ongoing teacher contract negotiations, which took a turn last week when CPS withdrew a one-year contract offer. That contract would have preserved the district’s “pension pickup” for teachers, a decades-long agreement that saw CPS pay 7 percent of the 9 percent that teachers contribute to their pensions.

CPS is now pursuing a multiyear deal that ends the 7 percent pension pickup, a move Lewis has said is “strike-worthy” and amounts to a pay cut for teachers.


Below, highlights from Eddie Arruza’s discussion with Lewis. Please note that questions and answers have been condensed. Watch the video for the complete discussion.

On schools opening on time and no strike in the immediate future

When people talk about the S-word, it’s sort of like these are things that will lead to it if we don’t fix these. It doesn’t mean we’re starting off school that way.

On last week’s contract negotiations breaking down

I wish I knew, and I wish somebody could explain it to me correctly. We started these talks in February on looking at a successor agreement to our contract. We looked at 500 proposals or whatever, and the board just came and said, ‘could we maybe just focus on doing a one-year so we can get through this and see if we can work and get Springfield understanding that we’re working together.’ And, we’re like, ‘yeah, sure. That would be great.’

We agreed to no raises for this year (with the district offering to contribute 7 of the 9 percent to teacher pensions).

On the district’s idea to phase out the teacher pension pickup

I understand the notion of phasing it in. If we want to be more like the private sector, then we need to be treated more like the private sector, compensation-wise. 

It’s the members’ call, and that’s something we haven’t had a conversation about yet. We haven’t talked about that because it was never brought to us that way. But we do not want, clearly, a 7 percent [pay cut]. One of the other ways to deal with that is they always bring in new people. How do you do that with new people? How do you do that with people who are five years from retirement? What do you do with people who are 10 years away? 

Update: On Wednesday, CPS announced that new employees would not be eligible for the pension pickup and current employees will have the pickup phased out over three years. Employees who will be impacted are central office, regional and non-union support staff (principals and assistant principals will not be impacted).

On Mayor Emanuel saying CTU needs more ‘skin in the game’

I think that there are a lot of people that need to put some skin in the game. And I think we need to look at three different particular issues. One: We need to look at the revenue piece because that’s what’s wrong here. You can’t make up $500 million with the teachers union, having people pay into the pension fund at 7 percent instead of 2. That’s not going to fix the hole in this budget. We have a structural deficit.

On her ideas for additional sources of revenue

We want some TIF reform, so the money that’s been dragged out of schools gets put back in it. We want a progressive income tax, so the people that have more, that can afford more, pay more. Those are the kinds of things that would put an end to the silliness in Springfield and take care of what’s going on here.

We want the banks to put some skin in the game because they have done these toxic swaps, which if you look at the budget there’s tons of money going to them. Why do they get 100 percent?

On Gov. Bruce Rauner’s position to diminish collective bargaining rights

It’s crazy. That’s just crazy talk. It has no meaning. If we’re so empowered, then why are our members getting laid off? If we’re so powerful, then why aren’t we in charge of how you put stuff together? Why are we still struggling and suffering under an appointed school board when every other district in this state has an elected school board?

And as a matter of fact, Bruce Rauner is wrong: We need to strengthen collective bargaining, not weaken it. Chicago has fewer collective bargaining rights than any other district in the state. We’d like to have the same ones everybody else does. 


See a timeline of Lewis’ career.