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CTU says women bear brunt of CPS furlough days, budget cuts

After a news conference, teachers and Chicago Teacher Union held a "teach-in" at City Hall. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times

On their first of four planned unpaid furlough days Friday, the Chicago Teachers Union parked outside the mayor’s office with allies to demand more revenue for Chicago Public Schools.

And piggybacking on the success of recent women’s marches against President Donald Trump, they portrayed the furloughs and other cuts as attacks by a male mayor and CEO on Chicago Public Schools’ predominantly female workforce.

“Furlough Rahm!” chanted more than 100 people who crowded outside Rahm Emanuel’s office on the fifth floor of City Hall. “Furlough days, we say no! Tax the folks with lots of dough.”

“We are here to let the mayor, the Board of Education and the upper echelon of CPS know enough is enough,” CTU recording secretary Michael Brunson said. “Enough of the gender bias. Our members are close to 80 percent female, and mothers, wives, sisters and daughters are rising up all over this country right now.”

Brunson echoed CTU calls for gutting the city’s vast tax increment financing accounts and lobbying for a financial transaction tax to benefit the schools — and for CPS CEO Forrest Claypool’s “immediate resignation,” which the union’s governing delegates voted for this week.

Claypool imposed unpaid furloughs for all staffers on four days set aside for training and finalizing grades when students weren’t scheduled for classes in an effort to keep the cuts out of classrooms. Losing four days of work equals a 2 percent pay cut, according to the union.

District officials have estimated the measure would save $35 million to backfill a $215 million budget hole. CPS counted on that amount from the statefor teacher pensions, but Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill to give it to them, saying the conditions for the money hadn’t been met.

Claypool’s staff, including the press office, was furloughed Friday and did not respond to requests seeking comment. Emanuel wasn’t in the office, mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said in an email.

“None of the furlough days would have been necessary if Gov. Rauner hadn’t vetoed the $215 million he promised for Chicago’s school children, a rash decision he admitted earlier this week was an emotional reaction to a comment someone made,” Huffman said.

She did not address the gender gap but reiterated that all CPS staffers were furloughed, not just union members.

State Rep. Will Guzzardi speaks to teachers and their supporters at a City Hall protest Friday. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times
State Rep. Will Guzzardi speaks to teachers and their supporters at a City Hall protest Friday. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times

Union ally Will Guzzardi, a Democratic state representative from Logan Square, also urged teachers to save some anger for Springfield.

“The reason you all are on furlough here today and not in classrooms teaching our children, the most immediate cause is Gov. Bruce Rauner,” he said. “So in addition to demanding that Chicago Public Schools do right by our students, I need your help in demanding that Gov. Rauner give a fair shake to the black and brown students in Chicago.”

Catherine Kelly, a Rauner spokeswoman, deflected the blame, noting the governor is “someone who’s been in office for two years.”

“We would encourage Rep. Guzzardi to work with his colleagues to ensure the framework by the bipartisan, bicameral School Funding Commission is passed into law, so that we better fund our low-income students and the schools that serve them,” she wrote in an email.

No bill has been introduced.

CPS hasn’t announced further plans for cuts but could legally cancel at least four days of school before losing any state money.

A round of budget hearings — the third this year — is scheduled for Feb. 13, but it’s not clear when school officials will release their recommendations to be voted on at the end of the month.

School clerks fear they’ll be the next target of layoffs now that CPS is doling out some of their responsibilities to others, such as requiring teachers to fill out their own payroll information. CPS has not confirmed plans for school clerks.

But that would hurt kids because clerks are “anchors in the schools,” crucial to children’s well-being, said longtime Foreman College and Career Academy high school clerk Sabrina Woods.

Amalgamated Transit Union employee Deborah Lane addresses protesters outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office Friday. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times
Amalgamated Transit Union employee Deborah Lane addresses protesters outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office Friday. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times

“These are the persons our children come to after having a hard night at home, when they are sick when they are in trouble and when when they need someone to call home,” she said. “Over 80 percent of our clerks are black and Latina women, may of whom live in the community in which they work, and many of whom have children or grandchildren who attend their schools. Rahm firing them makes our schools less secure, less welcoming, less safe.”

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308 — which previously negotiated with Claypool when he headed the Chicago Transit Authority — joined the protest, too.

“We feel your pain because we had the dragon Forrest Claypool on our side, and before he left he made sure that he tried to tear down everything we worked on hard to build,” organizer Deborah Lane said. “We are predominantly African-American and brown women, 85 percent strong.”

Prieto Math and Science Academy teacher Roxana Gonzalez spelled out how the many budget cuts in recent years are affecting students.

“We need social workers and nurses in our schools every day, not part time, because students don’t need help on a part-time basis. We need real action,” said the 8th grade social studies teacher.

“When you don’t prioritize teachers you cannot say you prioritize students. If Rahm and Claypool are the politicians supposed to be on our side, how can we withstand the attacks coming from Trump?”

Craig Cleve, a bilingual teacher at Columbia Explorer Academy, joined other protesters at City Hall. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times
Craig Cleve, a bilingual teacher at Columbia Explorer Academy, joined other protesters at City Hall. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times