CHICAGO – Chicago Teachers' Union members overwhelmingly authorized a strike.

The union released the results on Dec. 14. More than 96.5% of the nearly 22,000 votes were in favor of authorizing the strike. More than 91% of members voted, meeting a threshold of a required 75%.

"Rahm, Forrest Claypool — listen to what teachers and educators are trying to tell you: do not cut the schools anymore, do not make the layoffs that you have threatened; instead, respect educators and give us the tools we need to do our jobs," CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey said in a statement. Sharkey was referring to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his hand-picked CPS chief executive officer, Forrest Claypool.

The vote is part of a process that could eventually lead to a strike as soon as early spring. The financially strapped district has warned of dire layoffs and other cuts if the state does not provide $480 million in pension funding support early next year. The district's fiscal 2016 budget relies on the funds although the fate of its request is uncertain with mixed levels of legislative support.

"Chicago Teachers Union members do not want to strike, but we do demand that you listen to us. Do not cut our schools, do not lay off educators or balance the budget on our backs," Sharkey said.

After several decades of labor peace, the teachers went on strike in 2012. The Chicago Board of Education and teachers agreed on a four-year contract with the final year being optional. The board earlier this year said the district could no longer afford the raises in that last year and the two sides attempted to reach a one-year deal without success and currently are in mediation.

"We have the highest respect for our teachers' work and while we understand their frustrations, a strike that threatens to set back our students' progress is simply not the answer to our challenges," Claypool said in a statement. "Instead, the solution to our $1.1 billion problem must begin with Springfield," the state capital.

CPS argues that the union's demand would require an additional $1.5 billion in spending.

Moody's Investors Service, Fitch Ratings, and Standard & Poor's all have pushed the board's $6 billion of general obligation debt down to junk. Fitch assigns a BB-plus rating and has the rating on negative watch which while S&P rates it BB and also has it on CreditWatch. Moody's rates the board's debt Ba3 with a negative outlook. The district retains one investment-grade rating, from Kroll Bond Rating Agency, which dropped the credit two notches to BBB-minus over the summer.

The board's Wednesday agenda has some revisions to the district's planned $1 billion bond sale including a slight increase in its size. The deal has already been pushed back until early in 2016. Another item authorizes a $195 million tax anticipation backed issue to be used as a credit line.

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