CPS brass cracking down on big payouts for sick days

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CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard speaks to reporters. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, joined CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard to announce a new program designed to increase the safety of Chicago’s youth at Marshall High School, 3250 W. Adams st. Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Chicago Public School officials hope to save tens of millions of dollars a year under a new sick-day policy that will be proposed next week and apparently will end excessive sick-day payouts.

The proposal follows a Feb. 3 Better Government Association report about a CPS policy that allows departing employees to pocket up to 325 unused sick days in cash on their way out the door.

CPS officials issued a news release Tuesday announcing they would be proposing changes to their sick day policy for only non-union employees at the Feb. 22 School Board meeting. However, the news release did not explain what the policy changes would be. The district estimated it spends $37 million a year on unused sick days for both non-union and union employees.

The policy change, if approved, would affect 3,139 non-union employees, CPS Media Affairs Director Robyn Ziegler said. That includes not only the brass at central headquarters, but principals, assistant principals, new “network chiefs” and their staff.

“We intend to present a comprehensive policy to the Board that will do away with generous payouts that we simply can no longer afford,” Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said in the news release.

The top recipient of the practice, according to the investigation by the Better Government Association published in the Feb. 3 Chicago Sun-Times, was a former CPS chief of Human Resources. Ascencion Juarez raked in more than $200,000 in unused sick days when he retired in 2009, the BGA found.

Even Arne Duncan received more than $50,000 in unused sick days when he left the post of Chicago Schools CEO to become U.S. Education Secretary in January 2009.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel ordered a halt on paying unused sick time to non-union employees at City Colleges of Chicago after the BGA found at least $3 million in such payouts to former employees of the last decade. Among the biggest beneficiaries was former Chancellor Wayne Watson.

Chicago Principals Association President Clarice Berry said principals long have stocked up on sick days to carry them through a health emergency because CPS has no maternity or illness policy.

“If you didn’t save up your days, you could have a baby or heart attack and not have any way to pay your bills,” Berry said. “As far as we’re concerned, this is deferred compensation.”

Principals are so concerned about the potential loss of their sick days that the association held an “emergency meeting” on the topic this week, Berry said.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Board of Education filed suit Tuesday in Cook County, seeking to recover about $15,000 – as well as interest and fines – from an employee who claimed sick-leave pay when she’d actually taken a second job in another school district.

In 2008, Veronica Mosley-Raggs, a Julian High School employee, submitted claims for 51 sick days, when she was, in fact, working in Bremen Community High School District in the southwest suburbs, according to the complaint.

Moseley-Raggs could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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