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Rauner’s schools chief tells parents CPS created its own mess

Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis, flanked by Gov. Bruce Rauner, discusses the state's school funding formula during a press conference Tuesday, June 12, 2016 at the Thompson Center. File Photo. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD — A day after Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool heightened his war with Gov. Bruce Rauner by blaming him for the school district’s latest financial woes — and likening him to President Donald Trump — Rauner’s education secretary on Tuesday fired back — essentially telling Claypool to look in the mirror.

Education Secretary Beth Purvis released an open letter to CPS parents, placing the blame for the financial mess squarely on CPS’ “continued mismanagement” and calling the latest cuts “curiously timed.”

The letter to parents comes after CPS officials encouraged parents to bombard the governor with phone calls in support of “fair funding.” It also comes during a high pressure week in Springfield, as Illinois Senate leaders try to pass a package of bills meant to end the state’s budget crisis.

In the letter to CPS parents, Purvis called the freezing of as much as $69 million in spending “a shock to all of us.” And she noted that CPS doesn’t have to make its full pension payment until June 30.

Claypool and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have been at war with Rauner over his veto of a bill that would have given the school district $215 million for its teacher pensions. The governor last year vetoed the measure after Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said it wasn’t tied to overall pension reform.

Now, the $215 million is attached to the Illinois Senate’s grand bargain package, which also now includes a statewide fix to the school funding formula.

“Rather than cutting services and creating a crisis to help justify a campaign to raise taxes in Springfield, it would be helpful to everyone if CPS would work with all parties to enact a balanced budget package that includes comprehensive pension reform and a new and equitable school funding formula,” Purvis wrote in the letter.

Claypool on Monday announced the freeze, while blaming the governor on CPS’ current money problems, and attempting to link him to Trump.

In addition to a $46 million spending freeze, CPS also detail a potential $18 million cut for independently operated schools, as well as a $5 million cut in training programs.

“Just like Trump, he’s attacking children of immigrants, he’s attacking racial minorities, attacking the poor here in Chicago,” Claypool said. “In this case it’s children which is particularly shameful.”

And CPS parents on Monday were sent home with a letter with a seething criticism of the governor — blaming him for cheating children of their “fair share” to score political points.

Purvis’ letter notes that the Illinois Senate is attempting to get CPS its $215 million pension payment.

“Why would CPS arbitrarily create a crisis and hurt its students and teachers rather than work to pass the Senate’s balanced budget reform package?” Purvis wrote.

Claypool on Tuesday said CPS must take emergency actions to meet its legal obligations to balance revenues and expenses “and cannot blithely and irresponsibly fail to do so as the governor and Springfield have done for two consecutive years.”

He then fired back at the governor, calling him “unreliable.”

“We will work with anyone who is interested in equitably funding all Illinois schools,” Claypool said in a statement. “The governor has proven himself to be unreliable on this point, as he went back on his word to fund Chicago children. If this is a change of heart, we hope there is funding behind his rhetoric.”

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.

CPS says it had to make the latest cuts because funds would have been already spent by the end of the fiscal year.

Contributing: Lauren FitzPatrick reporting from Chicago

Purvis Letter to CPS Parents 2.7.17 by Scott Fornek on Scribd