SOUTH AUSTIN — Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday blamed pension problems for individual school budget cuts being made over the summer.
In the first chance for media to ask Emanuel questions since he returned from a trip last week to Israel — during which many of the local school councils discovered their new budget cuts — the mayor said pension payments were responsible for 45 percent of the projected $1 billion Chicago Public Schools deficit.
That deficit has not only led to budget cuts but the closing of 50 schools, some of which had their final days of operation on Monday.
Emanuel said he warned a year ago that "this day of reckoning will come to our classrooms" if the General Assembly did not pass pension reform.
"I warned everybody," Emanuel said. "If we don't reform our pensions, there are going to be some very difficult choices to be made.
"So we have to get pension reform so we can make the right sort of choices rather than the wrong sort of choices," he added.
Gov. Pat Quinn has called the state legislature back to Springfield and set a July 9 deadline for pension reform to be passed.
Emanuel refused to discuss individual school cost-cutting measures, such as Whitney Young Magnet High School's plan to charge $500 for seventh period next year or the refusal of Blaine Elementary's Local School Council to approve staff cuts.
He blamed choices pension payments deferred for decades and "kicking them down the can" for the current budget crunch at CPS passed on to individual schools.
"We invested in our children and we're going to continue to invest in our children and nothing's going to change that," he said.
Yet, he said making pension payments could divert CPS funds away from classroom spending.
Earlier, in touting $1.7 million in grants to neighborhood nonprofit organizations specializing in mentoring, conflict resolution and job training, Emanuel said, "You can never go wrong by investing in the children of the city of Chicago."
Emanuel also defended the appointment of Deborah Quazzo to the Board of Education, saying she had "deep experience in education" and would widen the diversity of approaches on the board.
Quazzo has ties to charter schools, a connection criticized by the Chicago Teachers Union. Charter schools are typically non-union.