Is this bargaining in good faith?
by Paul Kersey
The budget that CPS produced is not without its flaws but
CPS Chief Administrator Tim Cawley at least managed to display a certain
bedraggled graciousness – too tired to be strident – as he walked the audience
of 200, mostly CTU partisans, through the board's handiwork. By contrast, the union members and
their allies in the audience were remarkably rude, frequently interrupting with
boos, hisses, and diversions that revealed more about the union mindset than
any flaws in the CPS spending plan.
As the meeting went on numerous themes emerged. First, the CTU and its backers are sure
that the $665 million hole in the budget, that the school board intends to
cover by draining its cash reserves, is easily plugged and in fact may be
manufactured by CPS: "my biggest worry", said one commenter, "is that you use
all of these reserve funds and you hit zero next year so that you use that
rationale to say 'we don't have any more money'".
Now using the cash reserve is not without its dangers. The district is staring at a shortfall
cool billion next year.
Barring a miracle or a bailout the cuts will be brutal next year
regardless of whether teachers receive raises of two percent or 20 percent. But the union's backers had two easy
answers that will not work:
- Get rid of Charter Schools. The union claims that eliminating
charter schools would allow the district to balance its budget. The problem with this is that most of
the children who attend charters would need to attend other schools within
CPS. CPS would get to keep the
money, but would need to keep more buildings open and hire more teachers. Overall savings are speculative at best.
- Get rid of TIFs. Tax Increment Financing districts limit taxes available to
the district by effectively freezing property tax assessments. But according to a University
of Illinois white paper the state's per-pupil funding formula is set up so
that state funding cancels out the losses from the TIF. There are lots of good reasons to
oppose TIFS. This is not one of
These facts did not prevent the union's backers from
repeating these simple solutions over and over again: "charter schools have
resources while public schools are slashed" says the Chicago Teachers
Solidarity Campaign, while "$250 million in TIF money is taken out of our
schools each year to fund the projects of the wealthy." An elementary school teacher teacher argued that the district should
try to get TIF money back from Penny Pritzker, Miller-Coors, and the Chicago
Mercantile Exchange. Amisha Patel,
the Executive Director of the Grassroots Collaborative said that the budget
"leaves hundreds of millions of dollars on the table and continues to
underresource Chicago neighborhood schools at the expense (sic) of charter and
magnet schools" and alleged that "Every year CPS continues to allow tax
increment financing funds to divert critical resources away from schools".
And on and on it went. Then there was the plain old rudeness. When Cawley attempted to explain the workings of TIFs, which
have a lot of working parts, the audience could not restrain itself from
groaning and interrupting, and when he offered his compliments to a
representative of SEIU the audience booed. Cawley could not even acknowledge the hard work of CPS
teachers without retorts from the audience.
Now “good faith” is a subjective thing, but certainly it
includes a minimal level of courtesy, a willingness to listen, and the
discipline not to keep pushing the conversation down dead ends. One likes to think that the union is
sophisticated enough to understand that eliminating charter schools or doing
away with TIFs won’t automatically balance the CPS budget. One wishes they would explain these
things to their members, rather than filling their heads with false hopes for
solutions that will not work.
Photo Credit: Photo by Tom Tian