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The race for City Hall

Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

Parents seek money for longer day while CPS looks to budget cuts

A day after announcing a looming deficit of $600 to $700 million – not counting any employee raises or the costs of a longer school day -- Chicago school officials offered few ideas for balancing the books for the next school year.

Critics of the longer school day seized on the opportunity to argue at Wednesday’s board meeting that schools need more money in order to see any benefits from more time.

Among them were parents from Prieto Elementary, who said their school lacks the resources to make a longer day productive.

“We would need five additional teachers for music, science, drama and an interventionist,” parent Veronica Serrano said. Other parents noted the school is so overcrowded, class must be held in hallways.

But it seems unlikely the school will get those teachers. After the public participation segment of the meeting, officials laid out a grim financial vision for the coming next year.

Tim Cawley, the district’s chief administrative officer,  said at a School Board meeting that for starters, the district hopes to find “tens of millions of dollars” in savings by buying goods and scheduling workers more efficiently, and cutting down on unnecessary procurement.

“One of the things we are going to do is find ways to reduce the centrally controlled funding, and allocate money to the schools,” Cawley said.

As a result, principals will get more flexibility in budgeting. To avoid confusion, they won’t get their budgets electronically. Instead, budgets will be handed out during April meetings with network staff, who will answer principals’ questions and help them decide what to cut.

Cawley also noted that CPS will crack down on vendors that submit bills for work done before their contracts are approved - and on employees who tell them to do so.

“I don’t blame you for being disturbed by what you’re seeing,” Cawley said in response to a question from board member Penny Pritzker about payments on the board’s agenda.

 “Until we don’t pay a supplier, and until we fire an employee, people are not going to take it seriously,” he said.

More pension relief sought from legislators

In the legislative arena, Cawley said the district will need another round of pension relief. The district’s pension and debt service payments alone will total around $700 million this year, and will keep growing after that.

Bottom line, though, there will be no “one-time fixes,” he said.

As it is spring, talk of enormous budget deficits is not unusual. Every year for the past three years, officials have announced shortfalls of more than $500 million. Typically they have lead to layoffs of central office and citywide employees and program cuts.

The most dramatic announcement was in 2009. Then-CEO Ron Huberman said the district was in the hole by $1 billion. In the end, the hole was filled with state pension reform that saved the district $400 million and other last-minute measures, including EduJobs, a federal grant program to help districts save teaching jobs.

The pension reform passed in 2009 gave the district a three-year holiday, which is coming to an end this year. Gov. Pat Quinn has said he wants pension reform this year, but it is unclear what form it will take.

Longer day settlement to cost board

Meanwhile, the Chicago Teachers Union announced that it had reached a legal settlement with CPS over the 13 schools that adopted the longer day this year under procedures that the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board found questionable, triggering a lawsuit.

In addition to payments of around $750 that the board already had promised to teachers, CPS will give teachers up to $1,500 each – a move that will cost the district about $300,000. Also, when a new contract is signed, the teachers’ salaries for this entire year will be retroactively increased to whatever the CTU negotiates for the 2012-13 school year. 

CPS officials said in a statement that "we choose to focus on the classroom, not the courtroom and this settlement is an attempt to avoid the courtroom.”


Anonymous wrote 2 years 41 weeks ago

Cawley talking?

I don't want to sound cruel but......This is coming from a guy who got a residency waiver???Isn't he part of the problem

Anonymous wrote 2 years 41 weeks ago

Mr. cawley--5 +5 + big $$$ savings

5+ 5--there are employees in CPS who will be happy to pay for this and say good-bye,
saving you

Anonymous wrote 2 years 41 weeks ago

Longer school day

Just an observation: All of the parents/people who spoke at the March 28 Board meeting in favor of a 6.5 hour school day were white. And, less than nine percent of the CPS student population is white. So, how much influence do these people actually think they can exert on the School Board?

Anonymous wrote 2 years 39 weeks ago

Were we at the SAME Board of Ed Meeting?

Still trying to divide CPS parents along racial lines? How's it working for you?
I know Hispanics from the Southeast side, from near Midway and other areas are against the unfunded, 7.5 hour day. You didn't miss the dozen or so Prieto supporters wearing yellow t-shirts, complaining that CPS hasn't even bothered to make sure their facilities are in good repair, did you?

I know African Americans from Austin, Gresham and West Garfield against the 7.5 hour day. Some see that the research on preschool (google Perry Program) is a proven way to help disadvantaged children, and would prefer to talk with CPS about funding that reform.

State Rep. Davis said, "A 7.5 hour day is a working man's day." She is 100% right. The month before, Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke against the unfair funding of CPS schools -- turning some into "haves" and others into "have-nots".

As the Sun Times reporter said to a friend, there were more speakers against the 7.5 hour day than for it at the last Board meeting.

But once again, CPS employees stood in the registration line to hold spots for speakers whom they had previously arranged to speak in favor of the 7.5 hour day.

If we excluded those "plants," then even fewer parents last month were in favor of CPS 7.5 hour day.

It is an unpopular idea.

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