State leaders consider future school changes



SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP)—State leaders might end today’s gridlock in Chicago public schools by changing tomorrow’s rules for running the school system, Gov. Jim Edgar said Tuesday.

The Chicago Board of Education has agreed with the Chicago Teachers Union on a new contract that would help fill the school system’s $298 million budget deficit.

Many Republican lawmakers dislike the contract’s provisions and want them changed. But Democrats say changing the deal could cause a teachers’ strike.

The Republican governor said one compromise could be leaving the current two-year deal in place but changing rules for the future.

‘‘It seems appropriate to consider maybe changing some of those state laws so it doesn’t interfere with the contract but still could be in effect down the road,’‘ Edgar said.

A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan dismissed the idea as interference in collective bargaining.

‘‘All of organized labor would oppose those provisions in the bill, so the bill wouldn’t pass,’‘ said his spokesman, Steve Brown. ‘‘If it fails, the financing plan will not be in place. The schools will close.’‘

Edgar declined to say what changes might be considered.

Edgar’s statement was the only hint of progress after hours of meetings between him and legislative leaders.

Senate President James ‘‘Pate’‘ Philip, R-Wood Dale, and House Republican Leader Lee Daniels of Elmhurst left the meeting by a back exit to avoid reporters.

The Democrats—Madigan and fellow Chicagoan Sen. Emil Jones—offered little more.

‘‘I think we further defined the relative positions of the various negotiators,’‘ Madigan said.

Jones and Madigan back a two-year plan that would change some inefficient work rules in the Chicago school system, borrow up to $300 million and use $110 million in pension funds for school operations.

The plan has opponents from both parties and every part of the state, but Republicans are especially critical. They think the rule changes don’t go far enough, that borrowing is a bad idea and that the pension money should be off limits.

Madigan said Republicans had again raised the possibility of holding a referendum in Chicago on raising property taxes to repay the $300 million.

He criticized the suggestion but did not rule it out.

Also Monday, the board that oversees Chicago school finances asked a federal appeals court to overturn a judge’s ruling that has let schools operate without a balanced budget. No ruling has bene made.