- Associated Press - Monday, August 8, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) - Chicago Public Schools officials on Monday revealed a proposed operating budget for fiscal 2017 of $5.4 billion that is $232 million less than last year’s which they say puts the district on a path to fiscal stability, but has prompted a strike threat by teachers.

The proposed budget is based on the Chicago Teachers Union accepting a contract similar to one the union rejected earlier this year.

“Our starting basis for this budget assumes we will be able to reach an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union that is roughly approximate to the deal they already accepted once,” Schools CEO Forrest Claypool said.

Claypool said that without certainty on the district’s labor costs, the district has to make assumptions.

The rejected four-year contract would have required teachers to contribute the full nine percent of each paycheck to their pensions. It also would have curbed some automatic pay rises.

“I think it’s fair to assume that the Chicago Teachers Union will understand that that potential framework is still a fair framework to deal with,” Claypool said.

Teachers have been without a contract for more than a year and union President Karen Lewis said teachers will not accept lowered benefits and lower pay, noting the rejected contract transferred pension contributions to teachers that would result in a 7 percent cut in pay.

“If they impose a pay cut, we will move to strike,” Lewis said. “Cutting our pay is unacceptable.”

Lewis said the union is willing to accept increased pension payments over time, but has to get a return in value that will improve working conditions and student education. She said that would include more nurses and social workers, improved art and physical education programs and no lead in the water.

The union membership of about 27,000 teachers and support personnel went on strike for about a week in September 2012, keeping about 400,000 students out of the classroom.

According to district officials, the proposed $232 million cut from last year’s budget covers a $300 million shortfall that remained after the state passed education funding measures in June. Those measures included a $250 million property tax increase to cover teacher pension payments.

“This budget does not rely on gimmicks or operational borrowing to balance,” the district said in a statement. The school board is expected to vote on the budget later this month.

The district announced last week it will lay off 494 teachers - including 256 tenured teachers - and another 492 support staff, although all teachers and staff will be able to reapply for their positions within CPS.

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