Quick Hit Matthew Blake Thursday October 4th, 2012, 5:37pm

After Approving Contract, CTU Prepares For School Closings, Budget Battles (UPDATED)

Chicago Teachers Union members voted overwhelmingly this week to approve a three-year contract, with the option of a fourth year, that was hammered out amid a historic seven-day CTU strike. Now comes the challenge of paying for the deal, which has so far largely played out as a battle between the union and district on school closings.

CTU announced late last night that 79.1 percent of its membership voted for the deal, a record high approval rating for a Chicago teacher contract, according to the union. The contract now awaits approval by the Board of Education, which will likely happen at their scheduled meeting on October 24.

At a press conference today, CTU President Karen Lewis credited the high membership support “to a year of labor activism” where the union staged numerous massive rallies, held a vote where 90 percent of members approved strike authorization, and viewed contract talks as part of a “deepening chasm between pubic school educators and those who would [like to] privatize or close our schools,” according to Lewis.

But the union now has its guard up when it comes to how CPS plans to pay for the deal, which is projected to cost $296 million over four years.

As Progress Illinois has analyzed, the deal itself hardly breaks the bank. The $74 million annual cost is 76 percent less than the $129 million CPS paid each year under the previous contract.

But CPS is broke and has not stated where the contract money will come from, though a plan must emerge after the board green lights the contract.

CTU has not made any suggestions. Lewis said today that creating a plan to pay for the contract is the job of school board President David Vitale, not the union.

The lack of specifics adds focus to the widespread rumor that CPS will close an estimated 85 schools, a move the union would fiercely oppose. Asked if the next “big fight” between the district and union would be on closings, Lewis answered “probably.” Lewis argued that, contrary to estimates from CPS, closing schools would not save money.

A number of factors have put CPS in a fiscal crisis.

Some of these are well documented, like the district draining its reserve fund for the 2012-13 school year budget and taking a partial pension holiday, which is set to end at the close of this school year.

Other factors transcend the familiar narrative of union versus management.

According to an analysis conducted by the Voices for Illinois Children fiscal policy center, Illinois is dead last in the country for funding it provides to local school districts. This means that CPS disproportionately relies on local property tax money. The Illinois General Assembly made a new round of cuts in state aid to local school districts this spring, despite the objections of Gov. Pat Quinn.

CTU has pushed for working in partnership with CPS to lobby Springfield for additional funding.

Also, Illinois, and other states, have seen steadily eroding federal funding since the 2009 stimulus bill expired. So-called budget sequestration that may kick in this December in order to shave $1.2 trillion off the federal deficit over the next 10 years could remove billions annually from the federal education budget.

UPDATE (10/5/12, 2:15 p.m.): CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler says that the district is "finalizing our analysis around how we will pay for additional costs associated with the contract."

Also, Ziegler said that the part of the contract calling for CTU and CPS lobbying together for more education money is "not really a new provision."

"It recognizes the fact that both CPS and CTU have a common interest in bringing more resources to public education," Ziegler writes.

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