The [Friday] Papers
"Citing a $1 billion budget deficit, Chicago Public Schools will lay off more than 2,000 employees, more than 1,000 of them teachers, the district said Thursday night," the Tribune reports.
"About half of the 1,036 teachers being let go are tenured. The latest layoffs, which also include 1,077 school staff members, are in addition to 855 employees - including 420 teachers - who were laid off last month as a result of the district's decision to close 49 elementary schools and a high school program."
How much more trauma can the system take? It's as if CPS is in a state of total meltdown.
"CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the district was 'scraping the bottom' of reserves to provide financial relief and had made cuts in other spending before making layoffs.
"We're not going to be able to cut our way out of this crisis," Carroll said. "Our revenues are simply not keeping in line with our spending increases."
Gee, that sounds familiar. In fact, that's what the Chicago Teachers Union and other advocacy organizations have been pleading for more than a year - to no avail from Carroll's boss, the mayor.
"We maintain this has never been merely a budget expense problem but is also a serious revenue problem," the CTU stated (again) earlier this month.
"Federal revenues are down. Mayor Rahm Emanuel should use his significant influence in the White House and on Capitol Hill to advocate an increase in federal revenues. State revenues are down. Board of Education President David Vitale, the former head of the Board of Trade, should push for the return the more than $100 million in state tax breaks that went to the CME and increase revenue to our schools. Local revenue is down. Billionaire Board member Penny Pritzker should offer to return the $5.2 million in tax increment financing (TIF) dollars she recently received to expand her Hyatt Hotel dynasty to Hyde Park. And perhaps most easily, the Board should advocate an end to the TIFs that drain a quarter of a billion dollars from our schools each year. CPS has been in revenue decline for a number of years."
Instead of pursuing revenue, though, the Emanuel administration has sought longer school days which are now busting the budget and the massive school closings that were advertised as necessary to close the budget gap even though CPS budget director Ginger Ostro said in court yesterday that that wasn't the case after all.
"Pressed under cross-examination Thursday, Ostro conceded the closures weren't designed to fix CPS' financial mess," AP reports.
"It's not primarily a budget-deficit initiative," she said about the closings.
Just as a reminder, superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett first said the closings weren't about performance but utilization; the district merely wanted to manage its space more efficiently.
Then it was about performance, but not money.
Then it was about money.
And, of course, it was never about race or class - even if the results were.
The fact is, nobody really seems to know for sure what this is all about. If Rahm himself even knows, he's not saying.
My guess is that Rahm loves the big gesture to show how tough he is - and to give himself something to brag about. His record, though, shows that his gestures are rarely thought out and lack a public policy backing beyond his natural predilection for, say, privatization.
A lot of actual, real human beings are now paying the price.
Back to the Tribune:
"The district again blamed the lack of pension reform for many of its fiscal woes, noting that pension payments are growing this fiscal year by an additional $400 million. The layoffs were the result of 'budgetary decisions made by principals or changes in enrollment,' the district said in a statement.
"Absent pension reform in Springfield, we had very few options available to us to close that gap," Carroll said.
First, counting on pension reform in Springfield to close your budget gap is like counting on winning the lottery to pay off your credit cards. It would be awesome if it happened, but the odds are better that Rahm gets struck by lightning while dancing to Robin Thicke at the Taste of Chicago.
Second, pushing the layoffs off on principals is exactly what some of us predicted would happen when CPS moved to "school-based budgeting" that was billed as giving principals all kinds of amazing freedom.
But the bullshit doesn't stop there.
"The district has also proposed an additional $52 million in reductions to central office costs."
Rest assured, those will not be central office cuts, but "central office" cuts. And given what we know about those, they might not even be cuts, but "cuts."
"Asked whether pension reform could help reinstate some of the budget cuts, CPS spokeswoman Carroll said it's difficult to know."
Why is that difficult to know? If you were counting on pension reform to fill the budget gap, why wouldn't it fill the budget gap?
Oh, wait, I know: Because it's CPS, where reality is a nuisance and facts go to die.
"Carroll said the majority of teachers to be laid off Friday are not tenured teachers, meaning they have been in classrooms for less than three years," the Sun-Times reports.
"About half of the 1,036 teachers being let go are tenured," the Tribune account says.
"[U]nder Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration principals have said they've been told not to talk to the press without getting prior approval," WBEZ reports.
Meanwhile . . .
"Chicago Public Schools spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to install new lighting systems in at least nine schools just before they were targeted for closing in the city's cost-cutting school consolidation plan," the Tribune reports.
Well, that's what happens when you do things out of order. For example, the district's 10-year capital plan and 5-year educational plan came after its mass school closings plan.
And in this case, Rahm's vaunted infrastructure trust, which hasn't done squat in its first year of existence, jumped the gun on an energy savings plan that doesn't yet have investors. Now the administration wants to find some suckers to pay for the work already done.
"In announcing the trust, the mayor said Chicago needed a trailblazing way to pay for projects it couldn't afford. But Emanuel last week dodged questions about why the trust wants to fund projects already completed and paid for by CPS."
Plus, Rahm Emanuel likes Robin Thicke.
From the Trib:
"Lisa Lane, who taught at the now-closed Peabody Elementary School on the West Side, said her principal informed teachers at the beginning of March that new motion-detecting lights would be installed to reduce energy costs. That, Lane said, led teachers to believe the school would be saved from closing."
"Instead, later that month before spring break, Peabody was pegged for closing. Upon returning after the break, Lane said she was surprised to find that new lights had been installed in her classroom anyway.
"We just couldn't believe it. We couldn't understand why they would redo the lights when the school already was going to close," Lane said. "Why waste the money? They could have easily canceled those contracts."
Lane said she is convinced that CPS, facing a $1 billion deficit next year, put lighting in the closing schools for a reason, and that the district has other plans for the buildings. In fact, she said she recently noticed the hallways and classrooms inside Peabody had been repainted from blue to a new coat of beige.
"You cry poverty, but then you spend a ton of money redoing lights in schools you're going to close?" Lane said. "The mayor has a plan for those schools."
"[Kelley] Quinn, the CPS spokeswoman, declined to say whether the district has future plans for any of the closed schools."
That's because they're just winging it.
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Posted on July 19, 2013
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