CPS to lay off 2,113 teachers, staff; CTU calls it ‘a bloodbath’
BY MITCH DUDEK Staff Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org July 18, 2013 6:55PM
Chicago Teachers Union rally at Daley Plaza. Monday, September 3, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: July 19, 2013 12:17PM
Chicago Public Schools officials announced late Thursday that 2,113 teachers and other employees would be laid off Friday, largely due to a giant pension obligation increase that’s straining the system.
“In fiscal year ‘14 we’re facing a historic deficit of $1 billion that is driven primarily by a $400 million increase in our annual teacher pension payments,” said CPS spokesman Becky Carroll. “Absent pension reform in Springfield, we have very few options available to us to close that gap, and that has resulted in bringing this crisis to the doorsteps of our schools.”
Of those being laid off, 1,077 are support staff and 1,036 are teachers. The laid off teachers represent about 4 percent of last year’s total faculty of 23,290.
“It’s basically a bloodbath,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. “There’s just absolutely no interest on the part of the mayor of this city to appropriately fund schools or work with us to get funding from Springfield.”
Lewis suggested the lack of pension progress may be an attempt “to sabotage the school system so they can hand it over to their privatizing friends.”
The layoffs come about a month after 850 employees were laid off — 545 of them teachers — mostly due to the closure of 48 schools.
Carroll said pension payments jumped this year from about $196 million a year to about $600 million because a three-year period of pension relief came to an end.
But Lewis said the district should have been prepared.
“They have known about this for three years, since they got pension relief from Springfield in 2010, and we came to them with a plan to make it so they don’t have to deal with this and they would not even consider the use of bonds or a variety of other ways to take the pension obligation off the books,” said Lewis.
Lewis said the layoffs will include teachers, teacher assistants, clerks, technology coordinators, instructional aides, lunchroom workers and security guards.
Carroll said the majority of teachers to be laid off Friday are not tenured teachers, meaning they have been in classrooms for less than three years.
Principals from the affected schools will begin notifying employees Friday morning.
In a conference call Thursday evening, Carroll repeatedly pointed to simple math that she said left CPS in the red and in need of fresh revenue.
“We’re not going to be able to cut our way out of this crisis because our revenues are flat or declining across the board and our spending obligations continue to rise, including that $400 million pension increase, salaries, health care and other areas,” said Carroll.
“On average in recent years we’ve seen more than 60 percent of our displaced teachers find positions elsewhere in the district,” said Alicia Winckler, who is in charge of human resources for CPS.
Winckler attributed the layoffs of 815 support staff, 398 tenured teachers and 510 non-tenured teachers to budgetary decisions made by principals. School closings account for the layoffs of 68 support staff employees and 194 food staff employees, she said. And changes in school enrollments account for the layoffs of 43 tenured teachers and 85 non-tenured teachers, Winckler said.
Lewis plans to fight the cuts.
“Our next move is to continue to lobby Springfield for the appropriate funding and the appropriate bill that would get CPS do what they have to do,” she said. Lewis also wants an elected school board instead one full of mayoral appointees.
In a statement issued Friday morning, parent group Raise Your Hand called the CPS announcement “a frightening day for the children of Chicago.”
“Our mayor has chosen to prioritize property tax spending on unnecessary and frivolous projects such as $55 million for a stadium for DePaul University, while CPS continues to receive drastic funding cuts that severely impact our children’s ability to thrive and learn,” the statement said. “The mayor’s decision not to use TIF money to offset some of these cuts is deeply disappointing and is forcing many parents to leave the city.”
The tumultuous news comes on top of a year of upheaval that has included a teacher strike, the implementation of longer school days, mass school closings, budget cuts and a new school budgeting system that leaves tough decisions of hiring and firing to local school councils comprised of principals, parents, teachers and community members.
The CPS budgeting method was changed this year to allocate a set sum of money to schools for each child enrolled and allowing principals to decide how to spend that money — whether on more teachers or supplies or programs.
Lewis will meet for her twice-monthly meal with CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett on the July 26.
Though the two have a good relationship, “It will be interesting,” Lewis said.