The Chicago Public Schools will open in the fall no matter what happens with budget talks in Springfield the next two days, schools chief Forrest Claypool said Tuesday.
“We will open the schools in the fall, and we’ll do whatever’s necessary to do that,” Claypool told a sold-out crowd at the City Club of Chicago.
But after a speech in which he reflected on his long career in government, Claypool ducked a question about whether he plans to still be heading the school system in September. Instead, flanked by CPS’ second-in-command Janice Jackson, who recently dropped her title of chief education officer from her Twitter account, Claypool shifted the subject back to state funding.
“We have done every single thing possible to take costs out of the system beyond cutting the classroom, and we are at the point now where essentially it’s difficult, if not impossible, to keep cuts away from the classroom door,” he said. “And that’s why what happens in Springfield over the next few days, next few weeks is critical to protecting our kids.”
CPS has been lobbying for changes in the state education-funding formula to benefit districts with a large number of children from low-income families. But those efforts have gone nowhere amid the larger state budget impasse between Democrat-led legislators and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
And in the face of the continuing budget stalemate in Springfield, where the legislative session is set to end at midnight Wednesday, the Chicago Board of Education agreed last week to borrow as much as $396 million in short-term, high-interest loans to make it to the end of the current school year. It also authorized CPS officials to borrow further by selling up to half a billion dollars in bonds so the cash-strapped school system can get by until tax revenue comes in.
On Tuesday, Claypool, who has blamed Rauner for CPS’s budget troubles, stepped up his rhetoric, saying, “This racially discriminatory state funding is a cancer upon CPS. . . . Only the removal of the cancer — by either Springfield or by the courts — will cure the patient.”
Claypool said CPS isn’t alone, that “there are school districts throughout the state who are suffering as well from the type of economic discrimination that we talked about earlier, as well as the withholding of block grants, which the state is doing. And there are hundreds of school districts throughout the state that are in deficit-spending who are hanging by a thread and probably not able to open school in the fall but for a state education budget.”
In response, Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said, “While Forrest gives speeches at the City Club, the governor and his team are in Springfield, working to find a solution to our state’s budget crisis.”
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Under Claypool, CPS has refiled a civil rights lawsuit against the governor that originally was dismissed in late April by a Cook County judge who told lawyers for the school system they could change the suit and file again. Though it’s a long shot to solve CPS’ budget problems, the lawsuit has been one of a number of sources of friction between Claypool and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this month.
On Tuesday, in what appeared to be an effort to tamp down talk that Claypool’s days at CPS are numbered, Emanuel appeared with him at the City Club, saying, “Nothing’s made me prouder than to introduce my good friend Forrest Claypool, who at every level has always left an incredible, indelible mark on the departments he has run.
“Wherever Forrest has gone, wherever he has been a leader — whether it’s the park district, the CTA or my own office — that department is stronger and on firmer ground, both in the sense of its mission to serve the public as well as on stronger ground financially.”