Claypool: Up to 5,000 teachers could face November layoff

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If Chicago Public Schools don’t get help from Springfield by Thanksgiving, the district will have to begin issuing layoff notices to teachers — letting go as many as 1,000 teachers for every $100 million it’s short, CEO Forrest Claypool said Friday.

“You know, we can’t wait forever for Springfield. We’re hopeful, but the truth is that if Springfield doesn’t act, then we have to act,” Claypool told host Bill Cameron on WLS-890 AM.

Claypool spent the better part of a 20-minute interview stressing the district’s dire need for help by way of funding from a deadlocked state Legislature and governor as it faces a nearly $500 million deficit.

Pressed on the consequences of the more and more unlikely help as Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton remain at a stalemate over a state budget, Claypool said teacher layoffs would begin with the holidays.

“We would begin to have to make changes and issue layoff notices before Thanksgiving, in order to be in effect by the beginning of the second half of the school year,” said Claypool.

“I mean this isn’t exactly accurate, but for every $100 million you’re in the hole, you’re looking at, that’s equal to roughly 1,000 teachers,” he said. “Other personnel could be part of that, but most of the personnel costs are in our teachers, who we obviously want to keep in our classrooms.”

At $480 million in the hole, that means the district could be facing layoff of nearly 5,000 teachers.

Final numbers, said Claypool, won’t be known until completion of an audit underway, and final non-classroom cuts are determined. But as for cuts, he said, “when you’re talking about a $1.1 billion deficit, it’s not going to be a major contributor.”

Late Friday night, the Chicago Teacher’s Union said it had already put out the shocking number in CTU warnings of the reality teachers face without Springfield help, even as CPS hedged on being specific.

“The math that he’s using is fairly secure, airtight. It’s a number that we’ve been using for months now,” said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey. “It’s an abomination to think about cuts on that level. It will really hurt the schools. Parents, students and teachers will suffer. But in fact, it could even be more layoffs than that, because don’t forget you’d only be laying teachers off for half the year, representing half a salary.”

Sharkey said the union’s own assessment includes the reality of not only massive teacher layoffs, but teacher pay cuts atop the layoffs; elimination of after-school and sports programs, staff furloughs, and even temporary closure of schools to save money.

“It’s a gloomy assessment, but if we can’t figure out a way to tax the wealthy, we are going to see our schools fall off a cliff,” said Sharkey.

The teacher layoffs would come atop several hundred that were part of $200 million in earlier budget cuts triggered by the district making its full, $634 million payment to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund in July, without pension relief or the delay Mayor Rahm Emanuel had sought from the Illinois General Assembly.

Some 1,400 positions — nearly 500 of them teachers — were included in cuts impacting everything from elementary school sports and the high school day to start-up funding for charter schools, teacher development and school maintenance and repairs.

The district has been holding out for help from a gridlocked Springfield as students returned to class Sept. 8 and teachers still have no contract.

Reached Friday night to expound on Claypool’s numbers assessment, CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the CEO’s comments were in line with warnings the district has been issuing.

“Chicago Public Schools officials have been consistently clear that without an agreement with Springfield that addresses our fiscal challenges, a mix of unsustainable borrowing and further cuts would be needed before the start of the spring semester,” said McCaffrey.

“If a comprehensive solution with our partners in Springfield is not reached, the process to address the budget gap would have to begin in November,” he said.

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