Chicago Announces 2,000 Additional Staff Cuts, Pensions Blamed

To cope with a budget deficit in excess of $1 billion, Chicago Public Schools has announced more than 2,000 layoffs with half of them sent to teachers. According to Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah and Kim Geiger of the Chicago Tribune, this round of layoffs will be in addition to an announcement last month that included over 1,000 employees and 420 teachers brought on by the closure of 49 elementary schools and one high school.

According to Becky Carroll, a CPS spokesperson, the layoffs were necessary after attempts to make cuts elsewhere weren’t found to be sufficient to close to funding gap. According to Carroll, the district had no other choice due to years of declining revenues which have not kept with costs of maintaining and operating schools around the city.

Carroll pointed to the failure to negotiate meaningful pension reform as one of the reasons for the district’s financial crisis. The city will owe $400 million more in pension payments this year than it did a year before.

“Absent pension reform in Springfield, we had very few options available to us to close that gap,” Carroll said. “This year, given the magnitude and the size of this deficit, and the fact that there was no pension reform reached in Springfield, this has made it to the doorsteps of our schools.”

Last month the district released school budgets based on a per-pupil funding formula, and almost immediately principals began complaining about severe budget cuts and being forced to cut art and music teachers. Thursday’s announcement drives home the extent of the reductions.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis expressed dismay over the layoffs.

Lewis accused district officials of bad faith, saying that they repeatedly lied to teachers and parents about “keeping the cuts away from the classroom.”

In addition to the layoffs, CPS is also planning to cut $52 million from the cost of operating the district central office. Many believe that the magnitude of the deficit means that the latest round of cuts will not be the last.

The last time CPS laid off a large number of teachers was 2010, when 1,200 teachers lost jobs because of that year’s fiscal crisis. CPS says 65 percent were rehired that year, and that typically a majority of teachers who are laid off find other jobs within the district, but CPS is facing a significant shortfall this year.

Under the new teachers contract, highly qualified teachers who have not followed students to the designated schools receiving children from closing schools are eligible to be in a reassigned teacher pool at full pay and benefits for five months next school year.