Chicago Public Schools abruptly announced Thursday that all of its employees, including teachers, will take three unpaid furlough days this year, prompting the teachers union to warn that its members will all but certainly strike on April 1.
Schools chief Forrest Claypool already has threatened that he could at any time yank the 7 percent of 9 percent pension contribution CPS makes on the teachers’ behalf. And that led the CTU to ramp up their talk of walking off the job on April 1 in an unfair labor practice strike.
Late Thursday, Claypool wrote to all employees blaming Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner who’s “more interested in forcing bankruptcy and taking over our schools than in addressing the unequal funding issues that hurt districts like ours across the state.
“We know we cannot cut our way to a solution,” Claypool said. “However, the governor’s inaction means we must continue to cut costs and ease our cash flow, so we can do what’s necessary to ensure our classrooms are protected and our students’ progress is uninterrupted.”
CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey denounced the cuts equivalent to about 1.6 percent pay cut, acknowledging that they’re legal under state law, but calling them ”outrageous, unilateral and unfair.”
“This is just a hardship on employees. and to make matters worse, it’s on top of a 7 percent unilateral pay cut coming April 1,” he continued. “The level of anger is getting to a point where people are going to start taking action. Right now there’s an action planned on April 1, and I think this all but assures there’s a walkout coming.”
The move is said to save CPS $30 million in salaries. Benefits will not be affected.
No CPS staffers will work or get paid on Good Friday, March 25, which is popular among employees and students to take off for the Easter weekend. Teachers and the aides known as PSRPs will also lose work and pay on June 22 and 23, which were supposed to be teacher-training days at the end of the year after classes ended for students. The training will likely not be rescheduled, according to the district.
CPS’ other workers will also be off two days without pay during Spring Break: April 21 and 22.
The days were chosen to minimize disruptions to learning, Claypool said. March 25 was specifically chosen because 8,000 staffers, or four times the daily average, planned that day off, leading several principals to “manage their schools by holding all-day assemblies in the school auditorium or showing movies,” according to his announcement.
CPS has struggled all year to balance its budget and recently borrowed $725 million in bonds at high interest rates to keep school doors open for the remainder of the year. It has laid off 200 administrative employees and earlier this week, another 62 union workers including 17 teachers after cutting per pupil funding almost 5 percent.
Claypool had been banking on help from state legislators in pension help to close a $480 million gap, but the Democrat-led General Assembly and Republican governor have been deadlocked on the state budget for eight months.
CPS has furloughed staffers in recent years but only those not represented by unions. In 2010 and 2011, the district mandated 15 unpaid holidays, furloughs and shutdown days for all non-union staffers, and in 2009, those same employees took six unpaid days.