Chicago Teachers Union contract could cost at least $10.2B to $13.9B

Chicago Teachers Union contract could cost at least $10.2B to $13.9B

Was Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates being facetious when she said a new contract could cost $50 billion and three cents? Maybe not. An analysis puts the price tag at least above $10 billion.

The Chicago Teachers Union is starting negotiations with the city to secure a new contract for the 2025-2028 school years, but how much will it cost?

Of the items that can be reasonably estimated – which is only a small, partial list – the costs total between $10.2 billion to $13.9 billion.

And people thought CTU President Stacy Davis Gates was joking when she said the contract would cost “$50 billion and 3 cents.”

Odds are in the union’s favor because sitting on the opposite side of the bargaining table is the man they hand-picked to become Chicago’s mayor, Brandon Johnson – a former union activist CTU bankrolled into office last year. Now, the union is looking to cash in on its investment – expecting a deal that a 142-page leaked set of demands reveals is an exhaustive list of costly new mandates.

CTU wants massive pay raises, stipends and additional personnel – all of which are within the traditional scope of bargaining. It also wants the city to create new housing, levy new taxes, construct new parking garages, undertake new environmental initiatives, divest pension funds from fossil fuels, fully fund infertility and abortion care for members, subsidize weight-loss surgery and drugs such as Ozempic, add new members to the bargaining unit, offer free CTA passes for all students and employees, among many other things.

Neither the CTU nor the city have provided details on how much they anticipate each of these demands will cost. However, analysis of CPS finances and recent city spending shows the costs are well on their way to reaching Davis Gates’ $50-billion mark.

Here’s what taxpayers can expect some of these specific demands to cost:

Minimum 9% cost-of-living adjustments: $2.52 billion

The CTU contract demands ask for annual increases in base salary equivalent to either 9% or annual inflation, whichever is more. In other words, members will be guaranteed to get a minimum 9% raise in base salary annually. The cost-of-living adjustment will require over $2.5 billion more than today’s salary costs through 2028.

Step increases: $817 million

Cost-of-living adjustments aren’t the only pay raises teachers get each year. They also receive annual raises with each additional year of teaching experience. These “steps” increase base salary and will be guaranteed to deliver an additional pay bump each year, per the new demand. In total, step increases are expected to raise costs by $817 million from 2025-2028 compared to current levels.

15% stipends for National Board Certified Teachers: $2 billion

The new contract would also drastically restructure the stipends teachers receive for becoming National Board Certified Teachers. Currently, this stipend is valued at just under $2,300 – only slightly more than the initial $1,900 cost to attain the certification, which also costs $495 to maintain every five years. The new demands would replace this with a stipend equivalent to 15% of the teacher’s salary. For the typical Chicago Public Schools teacher, the subsidy would give them an additional $14,000 pay raise. It is likely such a substantial pay raise would entice most teachers to pursue certification – there are currently fewer than 400 certified teachers employed by CPS – which could cost the district more than $2 billion based on current payrolls.

2,500 new teachers assistants: $708 million

In addition to major pay increases and stipend hikes, the new contract demands a slew of additional personnel to be hired. Among those demands are calls to hire 2,500 new teachers assistants – 1,500 for elementary schools and an additional 1,000 for high schools. Based on the current average compensation for teachers assistants throughout the district, hiring an additional 2,500 teachers assistants would cost an extra $708 million in salaries and benefits alone.

Additional new personnel: $1.7 billion

The new contract also mandates certain positions to be staffed at every school, regardless of enrollment. The new positions include: librarian, librarian assistant, social worker, newcomer liaison, case manager, restorative justice coordinator, reading specialist and interventionist (elementary schools), three elective teachers (middle schools), technology coordinator, “Climate Champion,” and gender support coordinator and/or LGBTW+ lead/specialist and option to expand LGBTQ+ faculty support teams at each school.

Because of the minimum staffing requirements laid out in the contract, this would constitute a minimum of 4,650 new hires. Based on the current average compensation for each type of employee, hiring the additional personnel would cost an estimated $1.7 billion.

Excess student stipends: $122 million

The new demands would also lower the contractual limits on class sizes at Chicago Public Schools across all grade levels. Teachers whose classes were bigger than the new limit would be eligible to receive a stipend worth $1,000 per student per semester. Based on current average class sizes, many teachers would be eligible to receive these stipends, costing the district an estimated $122 million.

Additional sick leave: $127 million to $192 million

The number of sick days allowed each teacher has also been increased in the demands and increased based on experience. Teachers currently receive a base sick-day bank of 12 days, but that will be increased to 15 days for those with 1-10 years of experience; 20 days for years 11-20; 25 for those years 21-30; and 30 sick days for those years 31-plus.

The average CPS teacher has 13 years of experience and would qualify for eight additional sick days. Based on current substitute teacher pay rates, the total costs for providing the extra sick days would range from $127 million to $192 million.

CTA passes for students and staff: $521 million

Also included in the demands would be “free” CTA passes for all students and staff members. CPS currently has a program that offers CTA passes to students at magnet or selective programs who qualify for transportation services. The program gives students a $5 Ventra card and a monthly pass valued at $35 for each month school is in session. If this program were to be extended to all students and staff, the total cost would exceed $521 million.

Electric bus fleet: $214 million to $500 million

CTU wants an electric school bus fleet. The district has historically contracted out busing services without maintaining its own fleet, but currently employs 586 drivers and has 714 driver vacancies. Recently, the district received a $20 million grant to purchase 50 electric school buses. At those prices, it would cost the district from $214 million to supply electric buses for all current drivers to $500 million when including all vacancies.

Affordable housing: $2 billion to $4.7 billion

Among the items that lay outside the traditional scope of bargaining are demands the school board partner with the city to fund 10,000 new affordable housing units, with priority given to CPS students and their families. The city’s most recent affordable housing developments carried per-unit costs ranging from $381,000 to $683,000, with the average unit costing the city nearly $474,000 to develop. At these rates, the additional 10,000 “affordable” housing units CTU demands would cost $4.7 billion.

Even at far lower rates – the nonprofit Chicago Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. averages $200,000 per “affordable” apartment – the cost of creating 10,000 new affordable housing units would reach $2 billion.

Rental assistance: $30 million to $60 million

In addition to demands for the creation of new affordable housing units, CTU also demands the board secure at least $30 million from the city and county to be offered through an equity-based formula for CPS families for multi-year rental assistance. The demands also state the program may be extended to $60 million.

$2,000 stipends per asylum seeker: $10 million to $40 million

The new demands also seek $2,000 stipends per student asylum seeker in the district. While it is unclear from the phrasing whether these would be annual or one-time stipends, there are an estimated 5,000 new migrant students attending Chicago Public Schools. At this level, the total cost of the stipends would range from $10 million to $40 million.

Library books: $13 million to $39 million

A CTU demand adds funding for the purchase of more library books. Schools with fewer than 15 library books per student will receive $30 per student per year to put towards the purchase of new library books. Schools with 15 or more books per student will receive $10 per student per year.

$2,500 retirement bonus: $4 million

Bargaining unit members with at least 30 years of service would be given a $2,500 pensionable retirement bonus in their final year of teaching. According to the most recent count of active members from the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, there are 1,060 teachers with at least 30 years of experience who would be eligible to receive this bonus. Additionally, there were 130 teachers who completed their 30th year of service last year – offering insight into the number of new teachers who would be eligible to collect the bonus annually. In total, the cost for the bonus would reach more than $3.6 million. That’s without considering the effects it would have on raising pension payouts during a retiree’s lifetime.

Workload reduction: $2.5 million

Lastly, the union demands double the amount of money committed per year to fund workload reduction. The board currently commits $2.5 million per year, which would be doubled to $5 million annually for the duration of the contract.

Other items not accounted for:

The items above represent a partial list of the extensive demands CTU has made. It is far from a complete breakdown of the costs, which CTU President Davis Gates has said would cost more than $50 billion. Among the provisions that are unaccounted for are:

  • Stipends equivalent to 15% of salary for certain paraprofessionals and school-related personnel and clinicians
  • 100% increase in career and technical education teachers
  • Surrogacy leave
  • Compensation and medical benefits for absences related to verbal assault
  • Leave added to work for Chicago Teachers Union Foundation and mayor’s office
  • Program to help new teachers purchase homes
  • Board support for housing policy and rent control
  • Board to fully fund Section 8 housing voucher programs and expand Air BnB housing rehabilitation to properly house 15,000 homeless students by 2025
  • Creation of dormitories for unaccompanied youth at unused CPS facilities
  • Use schools as sheltering places with two night-time custodial staffers and a social services worker
  • Installation of solar panels and other facilities upgrades at 50 schools
  • Carbon neutral by 2035, including the construction of three new, carbon-free, fully green schools
  • Creation of clean energy jobs and green tech career and technical education programs in every neighborhood school
  • Queer competency training
  • 100% coverage of infertility care and abortion
  • Remove co-pays for physical therapy, mental health services
  • Funds to address “disparities” in health care based on race and sex
  • Access to bariatric surgery and weight-loss drugs on all health plans
  • Removal of asbestos, mold, toxins and lead pipes in all school buildings, including in under-utilized buildings

These radical new demands will skyrocket costs for the district, which has already seen rapid growth in spending amid declining outcomes for students. Since 2012, spending has increased by 97%, but student proficiency in reading has declined by 63% and by 78% in math for grades 3-8. With the costs of the demands outlined above – which represents only a fraction of CTU’s latest demands – annual spending is set to triple compared to 2012 levels.

Today, only 26% of third- through eighth-graders are proficient in reading. Less than 18% are proficient in math.

As student outcomes deteriorate and spending dramatically increases because of rising salaries and benefits, enrollment within CPS continues to decline. The militant bargaining tactics used too often by CTU leaders to get their demands met have not been in the best interests of CPS students and families – or taxpayers.

CTU has gone on strike twice – both during contract negotiations – and walked out on students three times since the Caucus of Rank-and-file Educators took over union leadership in 2010. In 2022, the union illegally walked out on students over COVID-19 protocols, giving parents just hours to scramble for a back-up plan after the union decided not to show up for in-person classes.

Now, contract negotiations are ramping up and CTU finds itself bargaining with the former employee it spent millions to put in the mayor’s office. Chicagoans are right to worry about the futures of their children – and their wallets.

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