Despite a required payment made by Chicago Public Schools of $634 million to its teacher pension fund just short of a deadline last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced there would still be cuts made that are “intolerable, unacceptable and totally unconscionable.”
Acting CPS Chief Executive Officer Jesse Ruiz said the cuts, which total around $200 million, would result in 1,400 layoffs. However, he added that “very few of those are teachers.” In addition, Emanuel promised that class sizes would not increase as a result of the layoffs.
Ruiz went on to say that the majority of the layoffs would instead affect CPS Central Office employees and special education. Additional funding is planned to be cut from elementary school sports and school repairs. The cuts will also affect high schools in the area, which will now start and finish 45 minutes later.
In addition, CPS is asking the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund to loan back $500 million of the recent payment. Doing so would ease the current budget deficit of $1 billion, as well as help to set up next year’s required pension payment.
However, the Chicago Teachers Union said the although they had met with CPS prior to the release of the news, they were “blindsided” and “outraged” by the layoffs.
“We don’t buy that,” CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said Wednesday about teachers being protected from layoffs. “We’re hearing mixed messages.”
Although CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey did say that it too soon to tell what effect the layoffs will have on teachers in the district, he added that they would cause “real damage to our schools,” and that the idea that special education is overfunded is “laughable.”
Sharkey went on to say that there are currently 300-350 open teaching positions in the special education department that will go unfilled due to the layoffs. However, he added that CPS had already been having difficulty finding quality teachers to fill the open positions.
He also said that CTU membership would not approve a plan that would have teachers pay more of their pension contributions, as it would result in an effective pay cut of about 7%, writes Bill Ruthhart for The Chicago Tribune.
“This is troubling to us, because it appears to be backsliding — backtracking on commitments that were made at the bargaining table,” Sharkey said. “Because right now, frankly, the city’s bargaining position is that the pension pickup would remain for the coming year.”
Meanwhile, Senate President John Cullerton has introduced a bill that would shift employer contributions for the CPS pensions to the state. Although Governor Bruce Rauner initially supported the move, he is likely to oppose the bill due to its inclusion of other provisions of which he does not approve.