Feb. 29 is the day Chicago Public Schools now says it could lay off school staffers, should the broke district and Chicago Teachers Union fail to agree on a new contract before the end of the month.
But the union repeated accusations that the district with which it continues to negotiate has manufactured another crisis.
On Tuesday, principals bracing themselves for unusual midyear budget cuts by a broke district learned how deep reductions to their schools could go. The worst of the cuts hit schools in wealthy neighborhoods, according to data released late Tuesday by CPS.
And at least 40 schools somehow emerged with more money despite the cuts.
That’s because CPS moved around roughly $33 million in current federal money for low-income children under Titles I and II — and also released an additional $10 million in state money that schools hadn’t spent from previous years.
The district also borrowed about $725 million in high-interest rate bonds last week, less than the $875 million it had sought to keep schools operating through June.
The state and federal money helped more than 40 schools — a dozen of which had stockpiled six figures — increase their budgets, according to CPS.
Principals were called to a meeting Tuesday with CPS officials, including CEO Forrest Claypool, to receive individual budgets showing net cuts of up to 3.48 percent. Nearly 5 percent in cuts to per-pupil funding would be offset by changes in how state and federal funding can be used, CPS said. School leaders have to submit updated balanced budget plans by Feb. 16.
CPS said it will send pink slips on Feb. 29 — but urged the principals to spare classroom teachers from any layoffs.
“These painful reductions are not the steps that we want to take, but they are the steps we must take as our cash position becomes tighter every day — especially as the District relies on short-term financing to pay its bills — and we are doing everything in our power to sustain the gains our students are making in their classrooms,” Claypool said in a statement.
Claypool hinted that the lower bond sales led to worse impact, said a principal who asked not to be named, fearing repercussions.
And several more who also asked to remain anonymous told the Sun-Times they could manage the budget cuts without any layoffs, thanks to parent fundraising. Walter Payton College Prep has already raised several hundred thousand dollars in anticipation of layoffs threatened earlier this year as CPS tries to plug a $480 million hole in its current operating budget.
The CTU cried foul, calling the cuts a ploy to put unnecessary pressure on the union. Last week, the union’s broad negotiation squad rejected a contract proposal that CTU president Karen Lewis had called a “serious offer.”
“After just three weeks of negotiations, the district made an offer that relied on a reduction of more than 2,000 educators from the system, made no provision against subsequent ballooning class sizes and included nothing but the vaguest indicators of where new revenue would be found,” union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said in a statement.
“More importantly, the terms of that offer would not have impacted the current school year or existing school budgets in any way, so we find CPS’ reduction in school budgets by $120 million unnecessary and completely retaliatory, and not at all evident of some urgent crisis in our schools,” Gadlin said.
However, both parties agreed to continue to negotiate in good faith, meeting several times a week with a mediator. They’ve been joined at least once by a professional fact-finder whose expertise must be considered before the CTU can strike.
Claypool sent a letter to Lewis last week announcing the cuts as well as the unilateral end to a 7 percent pension contribution CPS offered decades ago to teachers in lieu of a raise. That pension pickup could end as soon as March 1, saving CPS $65 million this year, Claypool wrote.
The school cuts equal another $85 million through the end of the year, and recent administrative layoffs total another $32 million, according to the district.
Charter schools still are set to lose $13.8 million in per-pupil funding and can apply to win back some of $6.8 million in federal money. Since charters are paid quarterly for enrollment, the whole reduction in their funding would come out of their fourth quarter payment in April. Those publicly funded but privately managed schools will learn details on Wednesday.