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Editorial: Layoffs show CPS needs pension reform, revenue — and some honesty

Updated: August 20, 2013 6:50AM



Just when we thought things couldn’t get any uglier in the Chicago Public Schools.

After a year that began with a strike and ended with the closure of nearly 50 schools, mass layoffs are expected across the school system on Friday.

It’s not clear how much more teachers, parents and principals can take.

Late Thursday, the Chicago Teachers Union warned of major layoffs on Friday, numbers that CPS quickly confirmed.

In total, CPS plans to lay off 2,113 staff, including 1,036 teachers and 1,077 other staff.

This is on top of the 850 employees, about half of them teachers, who were laid off last month because of school closings.

Friday’s layoffs are triggered by declines in school-based budgets, enrollment drops and school closings, CPS said. Some of the laid-off staff could be rehired elsewhere in CPS.

CPS employed 23,300 teachers last year.

The school system’s first response was to blame Chicago’s pension mess. They’re right on that, to a large extent. CPS’ pension bill goes up by $400 million this year, contributing heavily to its projected $1 billion deficit.

The Sun-Times editorial page has lobbied hard for pension cost-cutting for the state’s retirement systems and, of late, has urged state lawmakers to include CPS in any pension reforms.

Thursday’s triple-downgrade of Chicago’s bond rating is only the latest reminder of the costs of continued delay in reforming Illinois’ pensions. Reform is urgently needed now, this summer, and should include the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund.

But that’s just one of many steps needed to put the school system on sound financial footing — CPS also needs more revenue as well as a tax levy dedicated to the teachers’ pension fund.

Declaring there is a tax-increment financing surplus and then funneling the extra cash back to CPS also would help.

To win these victories, CPS’ leadership needs its teachers and parents behind them.

Right now it’s too busy alienating them to get any help.

For months, CPS’ leaders insisted they would keep budget cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. When principals and parents over the last month began showing them, in very real terms, how their classrooms were being impacted by reduced budgets, they finally admitted schools wouldn’t be spared but continued to insist cuts would be modest.

And now, on the eve of mass layoffs, CPS puts out a statement acknowledging reality: “…the lack of pension reform in Springfield has brought this crisis to our schools’ doorsteps.”

These are tough days for everyone, including the folks running CPS. No one wants to lay off teachers or cut programs. Everyone wants a solution.

But the double-talk and runaround from CPS’ leaders only makes matters worse.

A little honesty would go a long way toward building the coalition needed to bring the relief that everyone — parents, teachers, CPS leaders — so desperately wants.



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