Our Pledge To You

News

Could CPS impose more unpaid furlough days?

Chicago Board of Education logo

Chicago Board of Education logo. | File photo

As the city’s school board announces a third round of budget hearings to deal with still-private plans to close most of a $215 million budget gap, one member raised the possibility of shortening the school year.

Chicago Public Schools officials declined to present their plans at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting, but one relatively new board member, the Rev. Michael Garanzini, wondered whether the district could shorten the school year.

“One option in the budget situations like the one we’re facing would be cutting back on school days?” he asked, and when told, “absolutely,” he continued: “People are going to say, ‘Won’t this impact our kids?’. . . . I think this is probably the major concern for parents and students and teachers is, ‘What’s going to happen because of the budget cuts?’ ”

CPS appears to have a little wiggle room in its schedule to cut back on school days, perhaps at the end of the school year after all its testing is over.

Illinois requires public schools to schedule a minimum of 176 days for students. Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said CPS has four more days on the books than required.

Students attend 178 days of classes on 178 days, and ISBE allows districts to count two full-day parent-teacher conferences toward minimum.

More days are set aside for teacher training. So the four furlough days recently imposed on all district staff don’t count toward the student minimum because they were set for teacher planning days that kids had off.

However, Mayor Rahm Emanuel fought tooth and nail to extend the school year in 2012 from 170 days to 180 — the extra time was a key reason teachers then walked out on strike.

Last year, when it also imposed furloughs midyear, CPS estimated a cost of about $12 million to operate a single school day. So cutting four days could save an additional $48 million or so. The four existing furloughs may save $35 million, less because teacher training is flexible, so not all schools planned to open June 22.

Chief Education Janice Jackson said the district wasn’t ready to reveal its plans for its “possible actions” to stanch the budget hole left after Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed legislation that would have given the state’s largest district $215 million it was already banking on for teacher pensions.

“As far as any actions like ending the school year and any other potential things that could be on the table, I think it’s really too early for us to discuss the impact of that,” Jackson said. “The key message here is that the district is being forced to make decisions we wouldn’t otherwise make.”

Gubernatorial spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in an email on Wednesday that “blaming twenty years of financial mismanagement at Chicago Public Schools on someone who has been in office for two years is ridiculous. Instead of name calling and finger pointing, city leaders should focus on finding long-term solutions that fix the financial management problems” at CPS.

At the time, Emanuel denounced Rauner’s veto as “reckless and irresponsible.” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool echoed that sentiment on Wednesday, saying that “Gov Rauner has in the middle of the year created a new problem for us that we’re collectively dealing with.”

Plus, he added, CPS’ budget needs an additional $300 million in savings it hasn’t yet realized.

CPS says it will present budget details before the Feb. 13 hearings, which are scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and again from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., school board president Frank Clark announced at Wednesday’s meeting.

Clark and five other board members present voted to approve an updated calendar reflecting the furloughs.

Privately managed charter schools also will take a proportionate funding hit, according to CPS. Andrew Broy, the head of the Illinois Network of Charter schools, didn’t yet know how much charters would lose, but he said the cuts would likely all come out of fourth quarter payments.

Given the district’s budget woes, a principals’ group, engineers union and several local school council members urged in vain for the board to vote against $535 million for CPS facilities, especially the $427 million in new spending to the private companies Aramark and SodexoMAGIC at 342 more schools.

About 90 schools were not included in those costs and are expected to be bid out this spring.

Five school board members approved the contracts, the sixth abstained.