As teachers picket, some worry about special ed cuts
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Annie Tan marched in front of City Hall Thursday morning in her red Chicago Teachers Union shirt, appalled at the mayor’s proposed cuts to the services her special education students need.
Tan, who’s taught second- and third-grade special education students at Finkl Elementary School, stood up for the district’s most vulnerable students who are among the targets of Rahm Emanuel’s budget cuts.
In addition to 1,050 total staff layoffs at Chicago Public Schools, some 350 vacant positions won’t be filled, Emanuel said this week, a consequence of the cash-strapped district’s decision to make its entire $634 million pension payment.
“If they don’t allow for these vacancies to be filled, our jobs become a lot harder as special-needs teachers,” Tan said. “I’ll be trying to service a huge caseload of students. . . . It’s impossible to meet needs.”
With a sign reading, “I don’t want 2B pushed out of teaching, Rahm,” Tan was one of about 75 protesters who walked up and down La Salle Street railing against proposed cuts that include profound changes for the district’s special education students.
CPS still could not provide details Thursday on how many bureaucrats, operations staff or teachers were getting laid off.
SEIU Local 73 official Matt Brandon said that 310 of their special education classroom assistants — whose salaries average about $30,000 — were getting pink-slipped. Some 30 security guards and 20 night watchmen also lost their jobs. Of the 300 vacancies that won’t be filled at CPS, 115 of them are Local 73 members, he said.
But the union already knew that 200 bus monitors and 63 “child welfare attendants” were getting phased out as of June 30, Brandon said.
Jesse Ruiz, CPS’ interim CEO, agreed that “these cuts are painful and intolerable,” but blamed Springfield for them.
“We urge CTU leaders and members to join us in concentrating our energy on the one place that can partner on a comprehensive solution to close our $1.1 billion budget gap and prevent even deeper, more painful cuts: Springfield,” he said.
Ruiz said Wednesday, alongside the mayor who appointed him, that CPS would try to move more of its special education students to their neighborhood schools. Many are at special cluster programs.
Ruiz also said that CPS’ special education staffing exceeds state standards and will get “rightsized,” for a savings of $42.3 million, including $14 million from closing out about 200 empty positions.
CTU recording secretary Kristine Mayle, a special education teacher, said it sounds like CPS is canceling special ed clusters — programs in a single school with extra social workers and psychologists and expert teachers that serve children from neighboring schools — and funneling those children back into general education settings. And that idea is “astoundingly crazy,” she said.
“We do have qualified teachers who can do it, but the level of service isn’t going to be there because [the clusters have] a concentrated group of kids so they can divert those resources to those kids,” Mayle said.
“I can’t believe parents won’t be outraged when they hear about this,” she said. “Why are they picking on those kids?”
Monica Serrano, mother of a rising second-grader at Ravenswood Elementary School who has a plan for his medical condition, stopped on La Salle Street on her way to work to lament the loss of one particular special education worker who helped her family navigate the system.
“She’s not in the position based on the email I received yesterday at 4:15,” Serrano said. “While I am sure that there are wonderful other people at CPS central, she was the only one I could say is effective and good at her job and understands the nuance of the issues.”
Contributing: Fran Spielman