Mayor Rahm Emanuel may have just had the best few days of his administration. A tentative contract with the teachers, a budget that appears to bring , for the first time in years, some fiscal stability to the city – and let’s not forget the Cubs.
The Daily Line‘s Mike Fourcher says that, yes, the Mayor does have some reason to celebrate. “What Rahm Emanuel has managed to do with the City’s debt and with pensions is that he’s managed to refinance everything so that there is a path to solvency. The trouble is the path to solvency is 40 years long.”
So today’s situation isn’t all that different from the Jim Edgar years, when the Governor created what came to be called the Edgar Ramp. It called for escalating payments for a series of years that would have brought fiscal sanity to the State within a decade or so. But the state’s politicians pretty much never walked up the ramp.
The agreement with the public schools may be yet another ramp – a fiscal commitment none of its architects will be around to shepherd through.
“Another dirty secret that the city government doesn’t want to talk about,” Fourcher continues, is that “I and other reporters have been hounding the Chicago Public School System in order to tell us what is the true cost of this, and they won’t talk about it. Bobby Otter from the Center for Tax and Budget and Accountability told me, ‘Well, what we should expect is the pension pick-up is going to be an additional $150-million a year and that when they have the cost of living allowance agreements, the COLA agreements go out in years 3 and 4, that will be an additional $50 and $60-million a year that will be on top of that in years 3 and 4 of the contract.’”
So did the Emanuel administration do the right thing?
“There aren’t a whole lot of real positives that came out of this for the City,” he opines. “What we’re really learning now, and it’s taken a couple of days, and the Chicago Teachers’ Union doesn’t want to talk about it because they got a great deal and they want to get all the teachers to ratify it and they don’t want to mess that up, and the Chicago Public Schools…well, it’s not terrible, but it’s not great, and they’re going to have to figure out how to pay for it.”
Fourcher feels more positively about the City’s overall budgetary policies, though.
“When it comes to fiscal management Rahm Emanuel’s administration has really been very good,” he explains. “Alex Holt and Carole Brown have done a very good job. They’ve found a lot of cost controls. They are doing a lot of very reasonable things like instead of just buying gasoline every day what they are doing is they are buying gasoline on the futures market…that’s a big deal. And they are doing all these little things like that that are saving them 10-million, 20-million, 30-million here and that adds up.”
Although he says the City isn’t proposing any glitzy mega-projects, this budget makes solid investments in hundreds of new police officers and detectives, a complete technical makeover of the 311 center, and the replacement of all 345,000 city street lights with LED lamps.
And one of those investments is in a new “Community Schools” concept. “The City has been neglecting the idea that elementary schools in particular are centers of communities,” Fourcher explains, “And that they are more than just a school. It’s where everything in the community comes together. And there’s an interesting thing, which is that I think about 70% of students in the City of Chicago don’t go to their neighborhood school. They are going somewhere else, and so this effort is to try and build up the idea that there are going to be more of these community schools.”
So, in the final analysis, the CPS teachers will all have to vote on the tentative contract. George Schmidt in Substance News hinted today that it might be “the worst contract in CTU history,” because the teachers didn’t get enough of a raise. Fourcher says not entirely.
“I think that if you’re looking at it from the purely, the situation of how much money is going into the pockets of teachers, yeah, probably it is a bad deal. But when you’re looking at the perspective of how screwed up our school system is in the City of Chicago and how many problems there are in Springfield, I’d say the teachers came out ahead of everybody else.”