Accelify Blog

Funding From Federal Jobs Bill Could Restore School Program Cuts (IL)

August 12, 2010

Chicago’s financially-strapped public schools are in line for a $105 million windfall from the new federal jobs bill — enough to restore high school class sizes, bi-lingual education and other program cuts — but probably not in time for the start of school Sept. 7.

The one-time windfall — and the Board o f Education’s ever-changing budget shortfall — could undermine efforts to convince the Chicago Teachers Union to forfeit a four percent pay raise or agree to other concessions.

The union discussed the latest developments at a House of Delegates meeting on Wednesday.

During a news conference at Robeson High School with U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Mayor Daley still appeared bound and determined to get teachers to join in the shared sacrifice.

“I’m taking $20,000 without pay as mayor of the city of Chicago. Do you think I want to do that? Do you think I want to take $20,000 out of my pay and asking my staff to take ten percent” less, Daley said, apparently referring to his 24 unpaid furlough days.

“My employees are taking one day a month off. Don’t you think they’re sacrificing? Do you think they want to take it off? No. They have families. They have mortgages.”

Last week, Schools CEO Ron Huberman unveiled his strategy to plug the last $370 million of what began as a record $1 billion deficit.

The plan called for depleting a reserve fund piggybank, cutting 500 high school teaching jobs and saving $30 million by raising high school class sizes from roughly 31 to 33.

School Board President Mary Richardson Lowry said the class size hike would proceed as planned until CPS has the federal windfall in hand.

“Every principal representing … those 300,000 students have to plan today. They have to prepare today. And today, those dollars aren’t in our pocket. So yes, we must proceed with our budget as it is currently proposed,” Richardson-Lowry said.

Pressed on which cuts would be restored first, she said, “Our priority is to make sure the highly-skilled teachers have an option of coming back, to make sure that we can reduce class-size, presuming there isn’t a condition that prohibits it. To make sure that, with respect to programs like bi-lingual education, that we’re able to restore those programs.”

Durbin posed the question, “why did Congress wait so long,” then answered it.

“We needed votes and, finally, two Republican senators from Maine gave us the votes we needed … so it does come as the school year is about to begin,” Durbin said.

Since timing is short and federal money is funnelled through the state, the heat will be on the Quinn administration to cut through the bureaucratic red tape.

Jerry Stermer, the governor’s chief-of-staff, said the state hopes to receive the money in 45 days and get it out the door fast.

“We’ve got some hard work to do — in the governor’s office, at the State Board of Education and working with each of the districts throughout the state — to get this money dispersed as quickly as possible,” he said.

Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said if CPS gets a planned $800 million line of credit, the system could use it to fully staff high schools for opening day. But, the Civic Federation would recommend against doing so because the state has been “unreliable” in making its payments.

“The Chicago Public Schools are in a state of financial crisis, which requires that they be cautious in their expenditures. The promise of federal funding is not the same as federal funding. It’s reasonable that they have the money in hand before they start incurring costs,” he said.

S o CPS could face one of its wildest opening days in years Sept. 7.

In a statement issued Wednesday, CTU President Karen Lewis accused CPS of manufacturing an “unconscionable, man-made educational disaster” by raising high school class sizes to 33 students and laying off 2,000 teachers and “para-professionals.”

Those cuts can be reversed if the state pays is bills, the city declares a surplus in “tax-increment-financing” (TIF) funds and returns the school’s share of the money and the $105 million federal windfall is spent “solely on hiring back educators,” Lewis said.

“It’s time to stop this brinkmanship that risks our children’s futures. … When political agendas substitute for education policy, children suffer,” Lewis said.