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CPS Unions, Charters Protest Budget Cuts as Board OKs $1.2B in Bonds

By Ted Cox | July 22, 2015 11:10am | Updated on July 22, 2015 4:01pm
 CTU's Jackson Potter says the Board of Education
CTU's Jackson Potter says the Board of Education "sat on its hands" over loans that proved to be "toxic swaps."
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

THE LOOP — Teachers, parents and administrators at both neighborhood schools and charter schools all called for more funding as the Board of Education cleared taking out an additional $1.2 billion in bond loans Wednesday.

Yet board members offered no solutions at their meeting Wednesday as student-based budgeting produced cuts at most Chicago Pubic Schools, while charters argued against getting just 15 percent of their original quarterly payments due this month.

"We're all fighting for scraps," said Rachel Davies, a fifth-grade teacher at Hearst Elementary.

Davies said the school faced a $200,000 budget cut this year and would certainly lose teachers. Davies went on to complain that the charter Academy of Global Leadership was paying $1 a year for rent to share space in a building with Hearst at 4640 S. Lamon Ave., even though the deal including janitor services was valued at $180,000.

 Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, called on the Board of Education to
Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, called on the Board of Education to "fund charter schools equally and fund charter schools now."
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

That typified the back and forth as both charters and neighborhood schools argued for more funding, even as the district faces a $1.1 million budget deficit.

"Our community is divided," said Ald. George Cardenas (12th), adding that the conflict between charters and so-called neighborhood schools is "destabilizing communities." He pressed the board to file suit in the courts to get the state to meet its obligation to be the primary source of education funding.

Yet it was Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) who delivered a blistering rebuke to the board on the whole funding mess. "We need an elected school board accountable to us, not just a select few," he told the board members, all appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

He called for higher taxes on the rich to meet CPS funding. He also decried a "corrupt culture" that had led to the resignation of Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and charged charter-school proponents with being "snake-oil salesmen."

The board went on to pass a $1.2 billion bond authorization.

Yet Chicago Teachers Union spokesman Jackson Potter charged, "The board sat on its hands" rather than pursue legal action against earlier loans he said became "toxic swaps" in refinancing.

According to Potter, CTU first urged legal action in 2011, but the board and CPS took no action as the interest rates rose, costing the district hundreds of millions of dollars. He said the board could potentially recoup part of that difference by proving "banks misrepresenting claims" in refinancing the loans.

CPS counsel James Bebley responded that the board was "at this moment in negotiations" with banks, but that he couldn't say more with talks at a sensitive stage.

CTU's Kristine Mayle went on to charge that CPS had lost $228 million in those loan swaps. She said that failing to fill 300-350 positions in a recently announced $200 million package of budget cuts would largely affect special-education staff and lead to "warehousing" of special-needs students.

The board held a public hearing ahead of its scheduled Wednesday meeting on the new $1.2 billion in bonds. Potter, however, was the only public speaker at that hearing.

Outside CPS headquarters, both teachers and charter schools rallied for more funding. Teachers chanted, "CPS is broke on purpose" as it pushes to cut salaries for teachers as they pursue a new contract for the coming school year.

Charters, meanwhile, railed at board plans to perhaps cut their initial quarterly funding payments to 15 percent of what's called for this school year as the district experiences a shortfall after paying $634 million in long-overdue teacher pension contributions last month.

The bulk of the public-comment session at the meeting found parents, teachers and administrators at charters and neighborhood schools clashing over budget cuts, even as charters pleaded for their full first-quarter funding, due to be paid this month, instead of the 15 percent they'll likely receive.

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, called on the board to "fund charter schools equally and fund charter schools now." He said charters could not open offering 15 percent of the needed teachers and 15 percent of books for students. "We do not try to pit charter public schools against existing public schools," he insisted, while taking offense to charter backers being called "snake-oil salesmen."

 Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa decried a
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa decried a "corrupt culture" at CPS and called for an elected Board of Education at Wednesday's meeting.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

"The district cannot balance the budget on the backs of charter-school students," said Teresita Lopez, a parent at Catalyst Maria Charter School.

President David Vitale, presiding over his last Board of Education meeting, insisted charters would "get their due money in sufficient time for them to open schools."

Yet he said the board was helpless to fend off a budget crunch after it had lobbied for years in the General Assembly to have funding increased, only to see state funding cut. "This board," he said, "has limited ability to raise revenue," pointing to how the CPS tax levy is tied to the rate of inflation, which has been low for years.

Interim CEO Jesse Ruiz granted that individual school budgets were "not what we had hoped to be presenting."

"In this climate, we may all have to make sacrifices," said board member Mahalia Hines.

The board also approved the mayoral appointments of Forrest Claypool as chief executive officer, replacing Byrd-Bennett after she resigned in the midst of a federal investigation into a no-bid contract she urged upon the board, and Frank Clark as board president, replacing Vitale.

Ruiz will return to the board as vice president, joining Hines, Clark and four other recently appointed new members: bank executive Mark Furlong, educator Dominique Jordan Turner, former Payton College Prep Principal Gail Ward and the Rev. Michael Garanzani, former president of Loyola University.

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