The Chicago Public Schools district is dropping its coverage of employee pension contributions for its "central office, regional and non-union support" staffers, according to a Wednesday announcement.
Currently, CPS picks up 7 percent of the 9 percent that school employees contribute toward their pensions. According to CPS, the district's 7 percent contribution will be phased out over three years for the non-union employees. The changes won't affect principals and assistant principals.
Some 2,100 CPS staffers will see their pension contributions change starting later this month, which will save the district $2.9 million. By 2018, the district says the annual savings from the pension changes will be over $11 million.
"Our goal is to protect classrooms and protect teachers' pensions, which will require everyone pitching in - and we're leading by example today by ending pension pickup for Central Office staff," CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said in a news release. "Making pension payments at the expense of our children's classrooms could result in reductions of thousands of teachers and unacceptable class sizes. At the same time, protecting classrooms but shortchanging teachers' pensions isn't fair to the teachers who earned their pensions and deserve them, which is why everyone needs to be part of the solution."
CPS has proposed having teachers pick up the full 9 percent employee pension contribution as well. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, however, has called the pension pickup issue "strike-worthy."
UPDATE 1 (1:47 p.m.): The Chicago Teachers Union released the following statement Wednesday in response to the effort to eliminate the district's 7 percent pension contribution:
Chicago Teachers Union stands by its assertion that the Board's refusal to continue its deferred payment pick-up contribution amounts to a 7 percent pay reduction for the city's public school teachers. Whether this reduction is done at once or in phases, it still amounts to the same thing--a pay decrease at a time when workloads have increased by more than 20 percent. Teacher compensation is a mandatory subject of bargaining and educators can determine to formally reject this demand and move to take a strike vote.
Public school educators have engaged in good-faith bargaining for several months and the mayor's handpicked Board of Education has rejected nearly every proposal that is good for students---including those that would cost the district no money. Teachers have already endured no pay raises and longer school days, and now they want these hard-working public servants to give up another 7 percent of their pay because CPS has a fiscal crisis of its own making.
Mayor Emanuel and Mr. Claypool should not hold our city's students and teachers hostage in their negotiations with Springfield. Teachers and students are not pawns on a chessboard. Over the last four years, the Board has cut our district down to the bone, while doling out lucrative, no-bid contracts to their politically connected consultants and school reform allies. If they are serious---truly serious--about resolving the CPS budget crisis, they would join with the CTU in its call for a variety of progressive revenue options, including TIF reforms, ending toxic swaps and calling for a fair tax so the wealthy can pay their share.
There is an African proverb that says when the elephants fight it is the grass that suffers. Teachers, students, parents and the communities they live in will resist being trampled upon.