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CTU president gets teachers’ contract negotiations off to a bad start

To no one’s surprise, the Chicago Teachers Union is preparing to ask for much more—billions more dollars—in contract negotiations that will begin in earnest soon. Union President Stacy Davis Gates dropped the gauntlet Tuesday before the City Club of Chicago.

He said the union’s demands “will cost $50 billion and 3 cents.” So what? This is audacity. This is Chicago.”

But he allowed that the fight would be tough. “The systems,” he said ominously, “are very, very stubborn. … These systems don’t give up easily.”

And then came his resistance piece.

As for where the money would come from to meet all these demands, Davis Gates had a firm instruction — even a demand — for Chicagoans: “Stop asking that question. Ask another question.”

Where to begin with this kind of rhetoric? Well, what if we point out that these “systems” are actually owned by taxpayers?

The money that supports Chicago Public Schools comes from taxpayers. And no, taxpayers as a rule do not like paying higher taxes. Many are already struggling to make ends meet.

The cost of operating public schools in Chicago has increased in recent years despite a very low student population; it’s the byproduct of a militant union that crushed several mayors (first Rahm Emanuel and then Lori Lightfoot). The CPS budget exceeds $9 billion this year; that figure is up nearly 30% from $7.4 billion just five years ago. Much of this increase is reflected in teacher salaries, which are among the highest among large city teachers in the country.

Chicago Public Schools increases the property tax levy each year to the extent permitted by law and is currently half Chicago property owners’ tax bills.

Of course, $50 billion is a rhetorical exaggeration. But even given the theatricality of his City Club performance, Davis Gates still displays inappropriate disdain for hard-working taxpayers. It is hard to imagine the late Karen Lewis, the person most responsible for shaping the vision of the CTU as something more akin to a political party than a labor union, in our view, setting herself and her members up for immediate public dismissal in this way.

In one breath, Davis Gates invites the public to hear what the union has to say about equality and why its demands are in everyone’s interest, not just members. In the next episode, he gives those who are already skeptical and fearful of the CTU and its political power every reason to ignore him.

Will you stop asking this question? Does he really have that little respect for his fellow Chicagoans?

Financing: Always A key question when it comes to politics and government. Nearly every politician — and certainly every mayor Chicago has ever had — has dreams of building monumental public works or creating groundbreaking programs that will not only contribute to the public good but also leave a legacy. And it’s appropriate—otherwise it would be irresponsible—for Chicagoans to ask who will pay for these dreams.

Davis Gates already knows about this page, and every other self-respecting journalistic outlet in this city won’t stop asking this question.

We and many others have observed and regretted the unprecedented situation he found himself in as Chicago prepared for another CTU showdown. Mayor Brandon Johnson is a former CTU member and lobbyist, and this hand-picked candidate credits his election victory to the union and its formidable abilities to attract sympathetic voters to the polls.

He should have recused himself from these negotiations due to a severe conflict of interest. Of course he should. Ethics is clear. But he hasn’t done that and we don’t believe he will.

The mayor’s madness has caused great upset among those who did not vote for Johnson, and even many who did vote for him think Johnson should recuse himself in favor of someone clearly not tainted by personal interests.

However, the situation may not be as one-sided as it seems at first. There is enough public money to pay for this contract. And CPS faces a fiscal cliff of hundreds of millions of dollars starting next fiscal year before teachers get another penny. Governor JB Pritzker has not responded to pleas from CTU and Johnson to put more state money in his budget. It’s unlikely Springfield will foot the bill for even a fraction of CTU’s demands.

So when reality sets in, teachers may have to decide whether to quit for the third time in the last 12 years. But this time they wouldn’t be able to use Emanuel or Lightfoot as a foil. They would abandon their friends and allies. In the final chapter of this multi-year war, CTU’s cards may not be as strong as they seem.

Davis Gates sarcastically “yelled” at “rich people” during his appearance at the City Club, and union officials said they planned to propose creative, revenue-generating ideas, possibly involving more contributions, for their friends at City Hall. prosperity and commercial interests. There has been a lot of talk from the CTU and Johnson camps about there being “more than enough” to fund their vision of progressive transformation in this city.

Condemning those who oppose the CTU agenda as hostile to the education of Black children, as Davis Gates did Tuesday, will not help that effort. The damage caused by such divisive rhetoric is enormous. If this situation continues from both Davis Gates and Johnson taps flowing from similar sources, some of the higher taxpayers may decide this is no longer a city for them, exacerbating the problem further.

So, in our view, this will eventually lead CPS and CTU into the inevitable debate about how to reshape a school district that serves far fewer students than it has in decades. There is an influx of immigrant children whose potential addition to CPS must be properly accounted for. But the elephant in the CPS room is the dozens of schools that serve 30% or less of the students they were built to educate.

Under state law, CPS cannot close any schools until next January. But from now on, there are no legal obstacles. The savings that come with making some tough decisions can provide more resources for schools and teachers who really need the investment. Indeed, there are parts of the city where schools are over capacity.

The closures are anathema to CTU and Johnson, of course. The closure of 50 schools following Emanuel’s 2012 strike is referenced repeatedly in discussions about CPS and its future today. But outside of Chicago, school closures are not uncommon. For decades in the suburbs, districts have cleverly consolidated schools in response to declining school-age populations.

All this means that once the illusion of money being full at the end of the rainbow is dispelled, it will be time to have a real negotiation and determine how to best use the resources at hand.

And we hope that Chicago’s teachers, whose work is critical to this city’s future, will focus on educating our children rather than leading a radical socialist movement. An editorial board can also dream.

Send a letter to the editor of 400 words or less Here or email letters@chicagotribune.com.

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