Chicago Public Schools says it will cut $75 million from school budgets before the end of June. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis says the union won't be "bullied" by the district into accepting a contract deal. Credit: Photo by Stephanie Choporis

One day after the Chicago Teachers Union’s bargaining team rejected a contract offer, Chicago Public Schools leaders told principals to prepare to make mid-year layoffs, as part of $75 million to be cut from school budgets before the end of June.

Principals told Catalyst that within the next two days, network chiefs would tell them how much money they need to cut and by when.

Union officials estimated at least 1,000 educators could be let go.

In a letter to the union dated Tuesday, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said layoffs would happen “as soon as practicable.”

While some principals said they may be able to stave off layoffs through contingency funds they’ve saved throughout the year, CTU President Karen Lewis predicted the cuts would “harm the most vulnerable students,” such as those who require special education services. But she said the union would not be “bullied” into accepting a contract offer.

“Education isn’t a chess game or a poker game,” she said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “These are real lives we’re dealing with.”

For months, the cash-strapped district has been threatening thousands of layoffs to fill a $480 million budget gap if the state didn’t come through with pension relief or if no teachers contract deal were reached by Feb. 1.

CPS also announced that after 30 days have passed, the district would stop paying the so-called “pension pickup” for teachers — a longstanding agreement in which CPS pays 7 percent of the 9 percent union members are required to pay into their pension. The district estimates this will save $65 million by the end of this school year.

Lewis said the union is prepared to file an unfair labor practice charge against the district if it unilaterally eliminates the pension pickup, which was a provision in the teachers contract that expired last June. A spokeswoman said the union is consulting with a lawyer about a possible timeline for filing a case.

Cuts coming to schools

The cuts outlined by the district include:

  • $75 million in reductions to school budgets, including just under $14 million in cuts to charter schools. That figure is based on a 4.3-percent reduction to funds schools receive on a per-student basis. The original per-student rate varied from $4,390 for middle-grade students to $5,444 for high schoolers.
  • The elimination of some programs paid for with federal Title I and II funds typically set aside to help poor students and to train teachers and principals. It was unclear whether this cut would translate to staff layoffs. The district says it will allow schools to apply for $41 million of these federal funds to help offset the per-student cuts. Charters would be eligible for just under $7 million of that.

Principals said they are being encouraged to cut support staff and school contingency funds before laying off teachers.

Troy LaRaviere, principal at Blaine Elementary in Lakeview and a frequent critic of School Board actions, said he would likely cut a half-time counselor who works with older students on social-emotional needs as well as a part-time teacher who helps struggling middle schoolers with math and reading.

Mid-year cuts are “reckless” and “irresponsible,” he said, questioning if they were really necessary. He pointed to a recent report in the Chicago Tribune that showed the district has just enough cash to get through the school year without classroom cuts.

Some principals said they expected the cuts would wipe out money they’ve accumulated over the school year by renting out their facilities or deciding not to spend on certain programs.

“People have been really fiscally conservative and refraining from making large costly budget decisions in anticipation of potential budget cuts,” one North Side principal said.

Some principals speculated that the cuts are a bargaining chip in the contract talks.

As one principal saw it: “It’s a game of chicken between [CPS and the CTU] to see who will walk away most … bruised.”

CPS officials announced the cuts a day before the district planned to sell $875 million in bonds to help with operating costs. The sale initially was scheduled for last week and was delayed, some believe, due to the market’s uncertainty about the district’s finances.

Negotiations continue

Both district and union officials said contract negotiations would continue, though a date hasn’t been set.

“One thing that we’ve always managed to do, even when we were on strike, was keep talking,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bruce Rauner announced that he had directed the Illinois State Board of Education to begin looking for a new interim head of CPS, in case legislation passes that would allow the state to take over the district until it gets on firm financial ground. Rauner hoped to rally support for the bill on the heels of the CTU’s rejection of the contract offer. But many observers say it’s unlikely state legislators would pass it.

Catalyst reporting intern Stephanie Choporis contributed to this report.

Kalyn Belsha

Kalyn is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email her at kbelsha@chicagoreporter.com and follow her on Twitter @kalynbelsha.

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