School accord faces hurdles



CHICAGO (AP)—The General Assembly has less than a week to reach a consensus on parts of a school bailout plan that took the Chicago Teachers Union and the Board of Education more than six months to thrash out.

It won’t be easy, lawmakers from both parties said Sunday.

‘‘I don’t know if it will fly,’‘ said Rep. Joel Brunsvold, D-Rock Island and chairman of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. ‘‘A lot of downstaters who had school districts on strike will say we didn’t bail those out.’‘

But: ‘‘It doesn’t mean a deal won’t be cut. In Springfield, a deal can always be cut.’‘

The teachers union and the board reached the tentative contract agreement Saturday, during a 16-hour negotiation session. Under the two-year deal, the school system’s $298 million deficit would be erased by a combination of teacher concessions and borrowing over a period of years.

Teachers would contribute 1.5 percent of their salary for health insurance premiums. The school board would borrow $110 million from the teachers pension fund and up to $300 million in bonds.

Teachers are expected to vote on the agreement Thursday, and the board shortly after that. Lawmakers return to Springfield on Tuesday to begin their fall veto session—and to consider the bailout.

They have until Oct. 18, when a federal judge’s order keeping schools open expires. Or they can waive the law barring Chicago schools from opening without a balanced budget.

Senate Republicans, who unilaterally passed their own rescue plan last month, made school reforms—such as more principal control—a high priority. Some demands, which were not included in the accord, could scuttle the proposed pact.

‘‘They (Republicans) are not willing to compromise on school reform,’‘ said Mark Gordon, spokesman for Senate President James ‘‘Pate’‘ Philip, R-Wood Dale. ‘‘My guess is they’re also not going to be enthusiastic about the pension diversion.

‘‘I’d say it’s going to be—based on what we know so far and presuming unanimous Democratic support—difficult to get the 10 Republican votes needed to pass it.’‘

It will take a supermajority of 36 votes in the Republican-controlled Senate and 71 in the Democratic-controlled House to approve the plan for it to be effective immediately.

Senate Democratic Leader Emil Jones of Chicago said the plan should receive support because it merely allows for loans backed by future property tax collections.

‘‘It should pass because it doesn’t require any funds from the state of Illinois to solve the problems,’‘ Jones said. ‘‘I trust (Republicans) will look at it in this light rather than just beat up on Chicago, and they’ll let Chicago solve its problems as other districts are permitted to do.’‘

The Republican chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee agreed some of the school board’s ties to Springfield should be severed. But he questioned the board’s long-term financial health under the proposed plan.

‘‘I think you will see us do what has to be done, but we won’t give away the store,’‘ said Sen. Frank Watson, R-Vandalia. ‘‘You’ll find a desire for strong work rule changes and some fiscal responsibility with the $300 million. (But) how will it be paid back, and what happens after the second year?’‘