CHICAGO (AP) - Officials with Chicago Public Schools said Tuesday they're ready to cut $100 million from school budgets and force teachers to pay more pension costs after their union rejected the latest contract offer, ratcheting up the tone of contentious negotiations that have lasted over a year.
Schools CEO Forrest Claypool called the union's rejection "disheartening" and cost-cutting efforts - including potential layoffs of support staff like teachers' aides - necessary without a deal. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis shot back, calling the announcement the "latest act of war" and saying teachers in the nation's third-largest district would protest this week.
During the last round of negotiations in 2012, Chicago teachers went on strike, the first such walkout in 25 years. The union has again authorized a possible strike, but legal hurdles remain. Union officials said the earliest that one could take place is May.
The latest flare-up followed an offer a CTU bargaining team rejected Monday, after both sides had deemed it "serious." The proposal included pay raises and job security, but union officials said it didn't address school conditions or a lack of services.
The union said in a statement that the district's announcement Tuesday was an "intimidation tactic."
"We are certain everyone who works in our public schools is facing a clear and present danger," Lewis said during a news conference. "Forcing someone to agree to a bad deal by threatening them, we're not going to be bullied."
District officials said "drastic" steps were necessary.
The school district faces a roughly $1 billion long-term deficit and is seeking $480 million in state aid. It already has laid off hundreds of central office employees.
Claypool estimated all the reductions would save the district $320 million over a fiscal year. He said since the teachers' contract expired in June, he has authority to make the pension changes and took steps to make teachers pick up 7 percent more toward pension costs the district currently pays.
He also said he'll ask principals to trim budgets but try to avoid teacher layoffs.
"These are very tough and drastic choices that were not made lightly. In fact, these are not changes we want to make," Claypool said during a news conference. "But we must do so without an agreement."
He added that bargaining would continue. He wouldn't give a timeline for when the cuts would take place.
The new semester for the district of roughly 400,000 students starts next week.
The negotiations come as top Illinois Republicans have floated a plan for a state takeover of CPS, something Democrats who control the House and Senate have dismissed. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday revived the idea - which Claypool called a "nonstarter" - during a Springfield news conference.