Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his schools chief are continuing their push for state lawmakers to create a new formula for state education funding in an effort to provide more aid to Chicago Public Schools.
In his speech at a City Club of Chicago luncheon earlier this week, CPS chief Forrest Claypool compared the education system to a game of Monopoly, saying the district was stuck on “Chance.” Claypool argued that if things did not change, class sizes could increase, and academic electives could begin to be dropped from class schedules, all within the next year.
“This crisis has been years in the making,” Claypool said moments later, in a departure from prepared remarks the district distributed to reporters. “There aren’t bad guys, there’s no evil conspiracy, nobody intended it to come out this way, but it did. It did.”
The district is currently putting pressure on lawmakers to act quickly to change the situation as they warn school principals that cuts could be made to their budgets, writes Juan Perez Jr. for The Chicago Tribune.
Last year the city negotiated a deal with 27 of the 31 unions that rewrote the rules concerning pension funds for laborers and other city workers. After a number of concessions were made, including greater employee contributions and a decrease in the cost of living allowances given to retirees, the city agreed to boost the contributions it makes to the fund.
However, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rita Novak revoked the deal in July, saying the plan was illegal because it reduced benefits and went against the pension protection clause in the state constitution that requires membership in a public pension system to be a contractual relationship, “the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”
Meanwhile, lead attorney for the city Stephen Patton said the plan actually improves benefits for employees by requiring the city to boost what they put into the fund over the next few years.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton is backing a measure that would see a two-year freeze be placed on local property taxes while at the same time offering $200 million in pension relief for area schools. In addition, the state’s education funding formula would see an overhaul that would allow CPS to implement a tax to pay for the teacher pensions.
However, Governor Bruce Rauner opposes the measure. Although he agrees with the tax freeze, he suggests that local governments be given the right to limit collective bargaining rights and repeal prevailing wage laws.
The Chicago Teachers Union is also against the measure, arguing that the state needs to find a way to give CPS the money it needs.
“But we think that going down to Springfield calling for support on a bill that really won’t fix the problem, that’s going in the wrong direction, it’s a bus to nowhere,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said.
The CTU is currently finishing contract negotiations with the district as teachers prepare to rally in Grant Park next week to show their force.