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CPS layoffs have hundreds of teachers looking for work

Teachers Byron Stearn (left) and Charles Mueller talk about their prospects after leaving a Chicago Public Schools jobs fair for high school teachers Thursday at International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

The financial woes of the Chicago Public schools has provided the city’s principals with a deep pool of experienced applicants for teaching jobs.

CPS last week sent layoff notices to 500 teachers as principals across the cash-strapped district cut their budgets for the 2015-16 school year. Another 500-plus non-teaching staff also were laid off.

Social studies teacher Robert DiPrima carried a sheaf of resumes — and a heavy heart — to a CPS job fair at International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399 in the South Loop on Thursday. His talks with principals were encouraging, but DiPrima still was shocked at being cut from the faculty at Jane Addams Elementary after 16 years at the South Side School.

“It’s my first interview in 16 years,” DiPrima said. “Jane Addams is a family. I had kids of kids I’d taught in class.”

District officials have said they expect many of the teachers who lost jobs at one school will find new spots among the 1,000 teacher vacancies expected across the district.

The job fair was the second of three the district will host before the school year begins, and more than 600 job candidates have attended the two events to date.

The budget crunch in CPS makes DiPrima wonder if, despite his master’s degree and National Board certification, his experience wouldn’t be a liability when budget-conscious principals are weighing him against younger candidates who are lower on the CPS pay scale. He knows, too, that even though layoffs put hundreds of his peers out of work — and a total of 11 Addams teachers and staff were cut — a laid-off teacher can be a turn off for principals.

“They ask, ‘Why’d you leave Addams?’ and you say you got laid off and you get the roll of the eyes, so now you’re stigmatized,” he said.

Byron Stearn has been substitute teaching in CPS for the past year, the latest stop for the 20-year veteran social studies teacher in a tumultuous period that began when he was laid off from Chicago Vocational Career Academy in 2012. The district designated it a “turnaround” school and made the entire staff and administration subject to removal.

Stearn had bought a house a block away from CVCA, and intended to teach there until he retired.

“I remember every year there’d be a retirement party in the spring for teachers with 30, 33 years. And I thought ‘Someday, that will be me,'” Stearn said outside the job fair after short interviews.

He caught on at a CPS school a year after his layoff, only to be cut on the “20th day” of the academic year when schools’ budgets are adjusted up or down based on attendance figures.

Stearn’s substitute pay last year was half his former full-time salary, and his personal finances have declined as he’s struggled to find steady work in a district that has faced budget cuts in each of the years since his layoff. Stearns has since gotten offers for jobs in growing but distant communities like Las Vegas, openings it might get difficult to turn down.

“This is what I know, this is what I’m trained to do, this is what I love doing,” Stearn said. “I still may have to go somewhere else.”

Ashley DiFilippo, 29, began her career as a teacher at Ida B. Wells Preparatory Academy six years ago. While she felt overwhelmed by the task of finding another teaching job in the few weeks between getting pink-slipped and the start of the school year, DiFilippo said she wants to finish out her career in Chicago.

“You always kind of prepare for the possibility (of a layoff) with CPS,” she said. “I feel loyalty to CPS, even with all this. I’m a huge advocate for public education. I’m not giving up.”

Marissa Ponti, 24, was looking for her first full-time job after working as a long-term sub at Clark Academic Preparatory High School last year. The North Side native and Taft High School graduate said she knew cuts were coming this year — and likely next year.

“I’m a product of CPS. This is what I’m passionate about,” Ponti said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that 11 teachers were laid off at Jane Addams; the school lost four teachers and seven staff.