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The Mechanics
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Education Thu Mar 04 2010

City Hall, Teachers Union Showdown: It's Complicated

The Chicago Teachers Union pension is statutorily separate from that of the rest of Illinois teachers, and for years performed better. The pension has performed poorly recently, and schools CEO Ron Humberman--a Daley lieutenant who ran the CTA for the Mayor after stints at the Police Department and emergency services--has been talking tough about the need for a drastic overhaul of how the pension is funded.

According to schools monitor Catalyst,

Last week, CEO Ron Huberman started his doomsday budget press conference by saying, "You are going to hear me talk a lot about the pension."

Pension costs have long been an issue for CPS, and costs have now skyrocketed to $587 million--three times what the district was required to pay into the teacher's pension fund just three years ago.

As a quick fix, Huberman hopes to convince lawmakers to simply reduce Chicago's additional payment by about $300 million, which would cut the nearly $1 billion deficit by about a third.

To stem the problem, various solutions have been proposed: higher employee contributions, raising property taxes, or rediverting the money in the city's enormous tax increment financing (TIF) districts back to the schools (the bulk of those funds were originally supposed to go to schools). Given that the Mayor's administration has performed dazzling feats of privatization in order to avoid raising taxes (or the appearance of raising taxes) employee give backs are the only tool available that can cut into the deficits the district faces. Typically, the CTU has been pretty easy to tame.

This year, however, may be different.

Catalyst notes, as Greg Hinz did earlier this week, that the effort by City Hall to change the pension funding system could be complicated by internal union politics.

Catalyst:

Stewart faces a tough re-election campaign this spring. In fact, her union caucus recently lost two seats on the Pension Board to the new, hard-line caucus called CORE (the Caucus of Rank and File Educators). It was a major victory for CORE, whose members say the Pension Board needs better watchdogs to protect it from a cash-starved district administration and prevent mismanagement. CORE still lacks a majority on the Pension Board, however.

CORE is but one of several opposition caucuses; former insurgent CTU president Deborah Lynch heads PACT; ousted former Vice President Ted Dallas is associated with the CSDU. Several other smaller groups are also clamoring for change.

Stewart is regularly accused of being too close to the Mayor and too unwilling to stand up to him on issues like Renaissance 2010 and the draconian "turnarounds" that have costs so many teachers their jobs and so many students needed stability. The prospect of losing the presidency of the 30,000+ member CTU may just be what is needed to stiffen her spine.

Similarly, the prospect of a hard line causing a more adversarial caucus to take power in the union leading up to his reelection in 2011 may be giving the Mayor pause in his effort to dismantle the public school system as the centerpiece of his urban education "revolution". The union election is in May. Keep a wary eye on the maneuvering between now and then.

 
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