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Chicago Teacher Raises: Teachers Union, CPS Reject Arbitrator's Recommendations

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City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman (L) stands with Mayor Rahm Emanuel as he announces his choices for City Colleges of Chicago board to members of the media at Olive-Harvey College on April 25, 2011in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman (L) stands with Mayor Rahm Emanuel as he announces his choices for City Colleges of Chicago board to members of the media at Olive-Harvey College on April 25, 2011in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)

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After weeks spent pushing back against the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), asking the group to save their calls for a strike over the pay raise dispute until the results of a fact-finding inquiry were returned with a recommendation, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools are in an awkward situation.

That's because independent arbitrator Edwin Benn's recommendation, issued Monday, was that Chicago teachers receive a 14.85 percent raise to "compensate teachers for working a longer school day and year," a union official said Monday.

As of Thursday morning, both sides have rejected it.

In a statement released by the teachers union Wednesday, CTU President Karen Lewis thanked Benn for acknowledging the need for substantial pay raises and the significance of the longer school day Mayor Emanuel championed last year. The arbitrator's report found that teachers are being asked to work an average of 19.4 percent more.

But Lewis said in her statement that after "consideration of the merits of his report," union delegates voted unanimously against it. Teachers must now wait 30 days before calling for a walkout.

When the union first began pushing for strike authorization, Emanuel and Chicago schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard asked teachers to wait for the fact-finder's report, confident that it would pave a path towards compromise. But the new CPS budget proposal, unveiled last week and met with boos from teachers and advocates, predicted that only a 2 percent raise would be manageable.

The school board also voted unanimously to reject the recommendations, CBS Chicago reports. Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale told the station that "quite simply, the board does not have the resources to accept the fact finder's recommendation."

According to one expert, this situation looks particularly bad for Rahm.

“He’s really painted himself into a corner,” Linda Lenz, publisher of Catalyst Chicago, a news organization that tracks school reform, told the Sun-Times earlier this week. Lenz also pointed to Emanuel's campaign to change state law, moving the threshold for strike authorization up to 75 percent, which Chicago teachers easily met at their recent strike vote.

“By pushing through the higher requirement for strike authorization--and adding some combative rhetoric--it energized the Chicago Teachers Union and strengthened them," Lenz told the newspaper. "We’ve all wondered how you would pay for a longer school day. But a surprise to me was the fact-finder coming out for huge raises.”

Despite the report's recommendation, Emanuel has made it clear that raises of that magnitude just aren't possible. CPS currently faces an expected $665 million deficit based on the preliminary budget that teachers decried last week, which drains public school cash reserves while reinvesting in charter school programs.

"Thank you for the report," Emanuel said Tuesday, according to WBEZ. "CPS and CTU are gonna do the hard work of coming to an agreement. The report, at 35 percent [raises] over three years, is not tethered to reality."

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