Senate Republicans show movement on school demands




SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP)—As lawmakers prepare to resume their fall veto session, some Senate Republicans appear to be softening their demands for ending the weeks-long stalemate over funding Chicago’s public school system.

‘‘We’re going to have to worry about the kids, and that may mean abandoning any reform for the moment,’‘ Sen. Martin Butler, R-Park Ridge, said Monday.

The GOP Senate caucus has been solidly united behind a rescue plan that requires less school borrowing than the plan put forward by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. They also want to impose substantial work changes and drop plans for using teacher pension money.

But a deal worked out two weeks ago by Chicago teachers and the school board rejects most Republican proposals. That plan will be the starting point for negotiations when the fall veto session resumes Tuesday.

So Republicans must choose.

They can insist on altering the deal to meet their earlier demands, which would upset the union and raise the possibility of a strike, or they can accept a proposal they consider faulty.

By all accounts, most Senate Republicans still oppose the union- and board-approved plan, which covers only two years. The current proposal doesn’t require any new state money, but another crisis could hit in three years, and that could require a state bailout.

‘‘It avoids the real problem,’‘ said Sen. Carl Hawkinson, R-Galesburg. ‘‘I don’t think that’s the responsible way to handle it.’‘

But several other Republicans said Monday they may have to compromise to resolve the impasse.

The teacher-board plan can’t pass if only a handful of Senate Republicans support it. It would take 10 GOP votes, assuming every available Senate Democrat backed the plan.

But some Chicago Democrats dislike the plan for using pension money and funds designated for poor children. Many downstate Democrats share the Republicans’ concerns.

Sen. Karen Hasara, R-Springfield, firmly opposes the plan. But even she thinks it eventually will pick up the votes needed to pass.

‘‘I think the votes can be gotten,’‘ she said. ‘‘Obviously (they can) if the powers that be put enough pressure on certain legislators.’‘

Wavering lawmakers may be nudged along by knowing that the Chicago teachers have agreed to let their pension money be used for operating expenses. While retirees may have a different opinion, that decision does make it easier to support a controversial practice.

The federal courts provide another incentive.

They have kept the schools open without a balanced budget in opposition to state law. If the dispute drags on, they may impose a settlement—one Republicans hate even more than the plan being discussed now.