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Blaming Rauner, CPS freezes up to $69M more in school spending

Still trying to close a $215 million budget gap they blame on the governor, Chicago Public Schools officials continue to chip away at that hole by freezing as much as $69 million in spending.

CEO Forrest Claypool has long attributed the district’s current money woes to Gov. Bruce Rauner, but he amped up his rhetoric Monday by drawing direct comparisons between the Republican state leader and unpopular new president, Donald Trump.

“He’s clearly adopting Donald Trump’s tactics of attacking vulnerable citizens in order to score political points,” Claypool told reporters. “Just like Trump, he’s attacking children of immigrants, he’s attacking racial minorities, attacking the poor here in Chicago. In this case it’s children which is particularly shameful.”

Responding to Claypool’s Trump comparison, a Rauner spokeswoman said, “The language used by Mr. Claypool is a misleading attempt to rewrite history and distract from 20 years of fiscal mismanagement by Chicago Public Schools.”

CPS officials were counting on state legislators to send them $215 million in state taxpayer money in time to make a teacher pension payment in June. But in December, Rauner vetoed the bill that would have allocated the money, saying that Democrats didn’t fulfill enough of the conditions attached to it, including comprehensive pension reforms for government workers.

Claypool urged Rauner to reverse that veto. But meanwhile, CPS principals were told that discretionary money for textbooks, field trips, technology and hourly workers who staff recess and after school programs will be frozen, district-operated schools now will be frozen — $46 million total.

Chief education officer Janice Jackson said no school is supposed to lose more than 5 percent of its budget from the beginning of the year. That’s still more than $250,000 at each of 24 schools, including Lane Tech, which stands to lose access to almost $900,000.

An additional $5 million in planned spending on teacher training also is to be frozen.

And another $18 million in savings could be realized by CPS scaling back funding to the 100-plus charter schools it helps bankroll if the state takes no action before the charters’ fourth quarter payment is due in April. Those schools would have to figure out how to cut spending accordingly.

Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis bristled at the suggestion the governor is to blame for CPS’ financial woes.

“The bipartisan agreement, worked out with Mayor Emanuel’s approval, has been clear from the beginning: Chicago Public Schools would receive assistance with pension shortfalls as part of comprehensive pension reform that saves money for the state and local governments throughout Illinois,” Demertzis said in a statement. “Rather than cutting services and pointing fingers, we should all be working together to pass this comprehensive pension reform agreement immediately.”

Last week, a bipartisan commission of lawmakers released its recommendations for how to allocate state funding for school districts and advised leaders to spend more money on children living in concentrated poverty — at least $3.5 billion over the next 10 years. And a bill is currently being drafted in the Illinois Senate.

Meanwhile, district officials have been scrambling to close the $215 million gap. Besides the $69 million in potential spending freezes, they announced four unpaid furlough days — the first taken by all staff last Friday — in a move expected to save about $35 million in payroll.

That still tasks them with finding $111 million before June. No other solutions have been publicized but Claypool has not ruled out taking days off the end of the school year especially since CPS could cut at least four of them before jeopardizing its state funding.

CPS officials stressed that the freezes aren’t permanent and could be turned back. Meanwhile they encouraged parents to bombard the governor with phone calls in support of “fair funding.”

The Chicago Teachers Union has decried the furloughs as an un-negotiated 2 percent pay cut that’s disproportionately affecting women who make up about four of every five union members.

On Monday, they renewed calls for new sources of revenue — and for Claypool’s resignation.

“CTU teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians already work with understaffed and under-resourced schools, frequently supplanting their meagre supplies out of their own pockets,” president Karen Lewis said in a statement. “This kind of disrespect is why delegates voted overwhelmingly for a district-wide vote of no confidence in Forrest Claypool’s leadership.”

So far, no more layoffs have been announced, unlike during the last school year when the district had to make up for more than $400 million it sought from Springfield. Schools saw their budgets slashed in February, many vacant positions were shut down, and some staffers did end up losing their jobs in the unusual mid-year cuts.

Public hearings — the third separate round so far this year — have been scheduled for Feb. 13 at CPS headquarters. The district doesn’t typically change its entire operating budget after the Board of Education approves the spending plan before the start of the school year. But this year, CPS had to account for more spending on a new teachers’ contract.

The budget number in this school-by-school spreadsheet below is the total school budget number, including everything outside the school’s control. A deeper dive into these budget numbers can be found in the interactive pages of the budget site, cps.edu/budget.

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