CTU: 5,000 CPS layoffs would devastate schools, could trigger strike

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In the wake of 5,000 threatened teacher layoffs, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey on Monday painted a picture of “devastating” cuts that could lead teachers to walk out on strike again as they did in 2012.

Should CPS CEO Forrest Claypool’s layoffs take place this fall, Sharkey said that up to 150,000 students would lose a teacher, many teachers would be split between two grades, and art and music and many after-school programs would likely go out the window.

“Virtually every student will experience chaos as every school in the city will need to be reprogrammed in the middle of the school year,” Sharkey said at CTU headquarters. “The educational experience of students would be gravely damaged.”

Sharkey repeated the union’s calls for new revenue sources for the cash-strapped schools system, such as taxes on financial transactions or on the very wealthy.

But CPS continues to look to Springfield for solutions. Claypool suggested on Friday that up to 5,000 pink slips could go out by Thanksgiving if deadlocked state legislators don’t agree to help the district with a $480 million budget hole — or about 1,000 teachers for every $100 million missing.

“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 said on WLS-890 AM.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton remain at a stalemate over a state budget.

Such layoffs could potentially drive Chicago’s 26,000 CTU members to strike, Sharkey said.

“If CPS goes through with these cuts, we should expect the CTU to do everything in our power to fight for our schools and fight for the people to work in them,” he said. “We will react to that in the strongest way we can.”

State law requires a process that wouldn’t let union members strike until at least late January, presumably after jobs were already lost.

“It’s disappointing that the CTU opposed Senate President John Cullerton’s legislation to provide CPS with $500 million in pension funding and relief — which would prevent layoffs no one wants to see,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said. “We hope CTU will join us in Springfield in fighting for pension funding equity in order to protect teachers’ jobs and pensions, and the children in our classrooms.”

Contract negotiations are ongoing but still stuck. Sharkey said his members would consider a pay freeze if the Board of Education stopped approving more new charter schools, as it plans to do next month.

The teacher layoffs would follow several hundred that already were part of $200 million in budget cuts triggered by the district making a full, $634 million payment to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund in July. About 1,050 staffers — nearly 500 of them teachers — were let go in wide-ranging cuts intended to avoid affecting children directly.

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