In response to persistent financial troubles, Chicago Public Schools has canceled classes on March 25, Good Friday, and has added two other "furlough days," June 22 and 23, that would have been professional development days after students were out of classes.
The district has enforced these three unpaid vacation days to save $30 million of desperately needed funds — and the move by CPS immediately drew a response from the Chicago Teachers Union. The organization has threatened to strike, writes Juan Perez, Jr. of the Chicago Tribune.
Officials at CTU said the unpaid leaves would equal a 1.6% salary decrease for teachers. The district's action will result in a walkout on April 1, said CTU President Karen Lewis.
This move, coupled with a 7% pay cut being sought by Mayor Richard M. Daley, means teachers are getting a one-two punch from the city as the district, city and state look to solve perpetual budget and debt issues.
But the district's top labor attorney said an April 1 strike would contradict state law and added that CPS was ready to take the matter to court.
CPS countered by saying that up to 8,000 faculty and staff members were planning to be absent on Good Friday, which is quadruple the normal daily average. Administrators expected widespread absences and had already planned to hold assemblies and show movies for students.
"After hearing from many principals that they were concerned about staff capacity on Good Friday, which normally falls during Spring Break, we determined the best course of action was a furlough day, combined with non-instructional year-end days," district CEO Forrest Claypool said in a statement.
CPS explained that principals would take an unpaid furlough day on April 21 and 22 while the rest of the staff and students are on spring break.
CPS' fiscal year began with a $480 million budget gap that school leaders hoped would be covered by the state. The state funding did not come through. The system has feverishly attempted to make it through the school year by borrowing money and laying off employees, but the debt it owes has been rated as junk and a bond issue of $725 million last month was couched in remarkably high rates of interest.
On the day the furloughs were announced, the union and CPS officials spent the day working out a new contract. The leaves also came after CPS' announcement of taking away its practice of paying seven percentage points of a 9% salary contribution made by teachers toward their pension fund. This elimination amounts to an 8.6% pay cut for educators. Sixty-two layoffs were announced last week as well.
CPS stated that stopping the pension payment for teachers would save $65 million in spending for the current year. That is over a third of the proposed $182 million cuts during this budget year.
The timing of the pension payment cuts has not been announced, but union leaders believe they will end next month.
Lewis pointed to the 2012 addition of a 10- day extension to the school year. She observed that the district should not have made the expansion if it did not have the dollars to do so, reports Bettina Chang and Dave Newbart of DNAInfo.
Claypool blamed Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and a lack of funding from the state for the forced furloughs. He added that it seemed that Rauner wants the district to declare bankruptcy and the state to take over CPS instead of facing the inequitable funding problems that are affecting not only CPS but also schools across Illinois, according to WMAQ-TV Chicago's Christian Farr.
"However, the Governor's inaction means we must continue to cut costs and ease our cash flow, so we can do what's necessary to ensure our classrooms are protected and our students' progress is uninterrupted," said Claypoole in a letter to employees Thursday.