If Springfield fails to deliver $500 million in pension reform that Chicago Public Schools is counting on to balance its books, new CEO Forrest Claypool said he doesn’t have a Plan B.
Class sizes could go up during the second semester and more staff could be laid off, Claypool told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. But pressed for details of any contingency plan, given the lack of support so far from the governor or the powerful House speaker on the bill that passed the Senate Tuesday, he said, “No comment.”
“Look, we’re getting a handle on the finances of the district as they stand now, staffing our personnel on a school by school basis, but I’m confident the General Assembly, given the time to act, will be a partner with us in the end because it’s too important,” Claypool said at CPS headquarters during a mini-junket this week to lobby Springfield and the Chicago Teachers Union to go along with a pension relief plan.
Claypool also could not say when the district plans to release its full budget, which must go to public hearings and then be approved by the Board of Education by the end of the month. But closing schools is not an option this year or next, he said.
Among the new CEO’s many other challenges is ironing out a contract with the CTU that’s currently expired. The sticking point is how student test scores are used to evaluate teachers, a point that led the teachers to strike in 2012
“We’re not budging on evaluations — that ship has sailed, that was agreed to, the teachers were a big part of that process,” he said. “There was a lot of negotiating four years ago over this that’s embedded in that contract and we’re not going to go backwards.”
When talks broke off right before the June 30 expiration date, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said CPS’ “bargaining rhetoric is as empty as their bank accounts.” She said her members were willing to accept a one-year deal with no raises in exchange for some quality of life improvements.
In their first sit-down interview since accepting the mayor’s appointment, Claypool, who has no education background, and Janice Jackson, his new chief education officer, said they intend to help neighborhood schools that are struggling to hold onto students as enrollment dips districtwide.
“The first thing we need to do is ensure stability,” said Jackson, a CPS grad, former principal at Westinghouse College Prep high School and mother of a CPS elementary school student. She promised more help for neighborhood high schools that have seen their enrollment decline along with their budgets in recent years.
“Ensuring that there is a high-quality high school in every community is definitely something I see as part of my vision,” she said.
Jackson said extra money has already been provided to schools that “are either losing enrollment or need support recruiting more parents and families back to their schools. So there are a lot of supports we haven’t publicized,” Jackson said.
And her office will help neighborhood schools market themselves to parents as a good choice, she said.
“Our goal at this level is to help principals promote their schools. But I think principals understand it’s a competitive environment. And that they do have to market their schools so parents select their school,” Jackson said.
Days into the jobs she and Claypool fell into after former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett resigned in the face of a federal probe, Jackson doesn’t yet have a specific strategy but said that stability “is our priority too.”
“We can’t give a magical date when everything is going to be settled. But I think [parents] should know it’s our No. 1 priority. We’re working extremely hard to ensure a level of stability.”
Contributing: Tina Sfondeles