CPS school budgets delayed by pension problems

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Chicago Public Schools principals were warned this week by interim CEO Jesse Ruiz that school budgets for the year beginning July 1 — last year released in April — are not coming until Springfield takes pension action.

And Ruiz warned of cuts that are sure to affect children unless the General Assembly works out a deal to alleviate CPS’ $700 million pension payment this year and overall $9 million pension liability.

“This letter is to let you know that while we continue to work on individual school budgets for next school year, we do not think it is productive or in the best interest of our school communities to release school budgets that will drastically impact our classrooms if Springfield does not take action,” he wrote in the letter dated May 11.

“Over the past few several years, we have done everything we can to keep cuts away from the classroom, but if Springfield does not make the changes our district needs, we can no longer make that guarantee.”

Ruiz did not tell principals when to expect those budgets or whether the amount CPS controversially allocates per student would change.

Principals bemoaned the unpredictability, saying they risk losing the best candidates to hire the later the budgets are released and cannot plan ahead. Last year, CPS gave principals and Local School Councils their budgets in April, with a modest increase per student to cover contracted teacher raises. Board president David Vitale said he wanted the principals to be able to compete with suburban district for the best teachers.

Pension reform was thrown into flux last week after the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. That caused Moody’s to downgrade to junk status the district’s bond rating, which affects how much it costs CPS to borrow money. The rating service blamed CPS’ “steadily escalating pension contributions and use of reserves to fund those contributions.”

In April, Ruiz introduced CPS’ smallest capital budget in recent memory of about $160 million that will only make repairs and alleviate some overcrowding.

The Chicago Teachers Union has been accusing CPS of being “broke on purpose,” saying the district is inventing crisis to “further political panic to force the city to implement even more misguided fiscal decisions that will hurt our students and public schools.”

“The mayor has provoked more labor discord by demanding a 7 percent reduction in compensation for teachers and paraprofessionals while promulgating a fiscal ‘crisis’ of the board’s own making,” spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said earlier this week, adding that Emanuel has considered none of the CTU’s pitches for new revenue such as a trading transaction tax.

CPS budget letter to principals

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