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850 teachers, staffers get pink slips at closing, ‘turnaround’ schools

(from left) Kristine Mayle Karen Lewis Michael BrunsChicago Teachers Unitalk about teacher layoffs. | Lauren Fitzpatrick~Sun-Times

(from left) Kristine Mayle, Karen Lewis and Michael Brunson of the Chicago Teachers Union talk about teacher layoffs. | Lauren Fitzpatrick~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 16, 2013 6:28AM



About 850 teachers and staffers at schools doomed to either close this month or to reboot their staffs were handed pink slips Friday afternoon, according to Chicago Public Schools.

With a giant budget deficit looming and uncertainty around how many teachers will be invited to follow their kids to new schools from closing schools, the 855 layoffs could be just the beginning of wider unemployment in the district.

At the 48 closing schools, 420 teachers of 1,005 lost their jobs, plus 110 paraprofessionals and 133 bus aides and part-timers. At the five schools confirmed for “turnaround,” where the children remain in the building but all the adults are replaced, 192 staffers were laid off: 125 teachers, 20 paraprofessionals, 20 bus aides and part-timers and 27 clerks, custodians and security staffers.

A total of 545 teachers were axed, out of the district’s total 23,290.

“The planning’s not fair to the kids, with all the scrambling,” said Heather Garrett, who’s finishing her first year at Dewey Elementary Academy of Fine Arts in Englewood, slated to reopen in August under the new leadership of the Academy of Urban School Leadership. “I told some parents here that we’re not sure what’s going to happen next year, and they looked like someone told them someone died. They keep saying they want to go where I go, and I’m having to reassure them that things are going to fine, but we just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The teachers laid off at the closing schools did not have either tenure or high-enough performance ratings for a chance to follow their students to available jobs in the receiving schools, according to the contract between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union. Everyone at the turnarounds will be replaced, regardless of job performance, though they may apply to return. Anyone who lost a job may reapply for open positions elsewhere within the system, according to the district; an average of 60 percent of teachers who reapply end up rehired.

And the highest rated teachers at the closing schools may follow their students but there may not be room for every last one in the receiving schools. They won’t know how many openings are available until mid-July.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the district’s CEO and one of the contract’s architects, did not speak directly with reporters Friday. Instead she released a statement saying that consolidating schools “will give thousands of children this fall an opportunity to access a safe, higher-quality, 21st-century education with all of the investments that parents, principals, teachers and we agree children need for a bright future such as a library, safe passage, AC, access to updated technologies, science, computer and media labs, all of which will be made possible by redirecting resources from these underutilized schools as part of the process we created in partnership with the CTU in our joint contract agreement.”

CPS also announced on Friday another $20.7 million in savings from the elimination of 96 central office jobs, changes in custodial services and renegotiated landscape contracts and CPS’ move to a smaller location. The district says it has cut nearly $60 million in central office and centrally funded programs over the last two years.

CTU president Karen Lewis called the layoffs “premature.”

“If children need busing, how are you laying off bus aides? They’re going to still need busing to get to the next place they go. The children haven’t disappeared. Or are you going to have 45 kids in a class?” Lewis wondered.

“They decided to make this announcement before the current school year is out, before anyone knows how many students will return to CPS next year and how many of our students from closing campuses will actually enroll in these so-called ‘welcoming schools’. And at a time when principals have just been given partial budgets, they haven’t been given their entire budgets, so this announcement comes, as far as I’m concerned, to try to spread fear and panic and chaos on a Friday night.

The timing of the announcement caught teachers by surprise, not that layoffs were coming at all. They were informed of the possibility after the May 22 vote to shutter a historic number of schools at once, according to CPS. And according to the contract hammered out during September’s teacher strike, details of what would happen to teachers who lost their jobs during school closing were made clear: Only teachers with the top two performance ratings could automatically follow their students. The rest would be laid off, with some unemployment benefits and a chance to become substitutes and to reapply for new jobs.

“They know the teachers have two weeks left; it’s such an insult for morale here for them to give us pink slips now,” said 10-year teacher Stacy Sobut, who’s also about to finish her first year at Dewey. She meant to be at a low-income school so she’s applied to return.

“I had no clue that we were getting the letters today; I didn’t even get a chance to prepare for the sticker shock. This is an emotional time for everyone; they should have waited until school ended.”

Alicia Winckler, who heads the CPS office handling hiring and personnel, said the district timed the announcement before the last full week of school to have as little disruption as possible to the school environment while giving staff time to make arrangements.

The mayor’s communications director Sarah Hamilton refused to comment on the decision to announce the school layoffs on a Friday afternoon when bad news is traditionally buried — as the mayor embarks on a father-daughter trip to Israel to celebrate his daughter, Leah’s bat mitzvah. In March, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was accused of political cowardice for announcing school closings while on a spring break ski trip to Utah with his wife and kids.

Asked about the timing of the layoff announcement, Hamilton referred questions to Byrd-Bennett and her spokeswoman.

But Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) chided Emanuel for dropping another school bombshell after leaving town.

“Makes it easier to avoid hard questions he can’t answer,” Waguespack said in a text message.

“The individual school budgets are being wiped out, too. Parents here raise tons of money for teachers programs, books and supplies and his policy is hurting them more.”

And the layoffs prompted a tweet from Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), one of the mayor’s harshest critics:

“My thoughts are with the hundreds of CPS teachers and staff (and families) who received layoff notices today due to no fault of their own,” Fioretti wrote.But Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th), chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee, and former Education Committee Chairman Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s floor leader, did not return repeated phone calls and text messages on the school layoffs.



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