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Rauner, Republicans Plot CPS Takeover, Could Clear Way for Bankruptcy

By  Ted Cox and Kelly Bauer | January 20, 2016 8:16am | Updated on January 20, 2016 3:46pm

 Republican General Assembly leaders state Sen. Christine Radogno and state Rep. Jim Durkin want the state to take over CPS.
Republican General Assembly leaders state Sen. Christine Radogno and state Rep. Jim Durkin want the state to take over CPS.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

THE LOOP — Republican leaders in the General Assembly are proposing that the state take over Chicago Public Schools and perhaps clear the way for the district to declare bankruptcy.

Republican legislative leaders state Rep. Jim Durkin (Western Springs) and state Sen. Christine Radogno (Lemont) unveiled the proposals Wednesday at the Thompson Center. Radogno called the plan "a lifeline" amid CPS' "abysmal" finances.

Durkin said the proposals would provide "the tools to right the ship," adding, "This is not a state bailout of CPS."

They said they had arrived at that proposal through a "mutual" decision with Gov. Bruce Rauner, who declared his support later Wednesday after giving blood at an American Red Cross blood drive at Union Station.

 Gov. Bruce Rauner chats with a Packer fan after declaring his support for a state takeover of CPS.
Gov. Bruce Rauner chats with a Packer fan after declaring his support for a state takeover of CPS.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

According to Rauner, the state Board of Education has already taken over seven school districts in Illinois, but legislation specifically exempts Chicago.

"Chicago always seems to be treated differently and separately from the rest of the state," Rauner said.

While Durkin decried "gotcha politics" and a "blame game" between Republican and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly, all three Republicans attacked House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), with Radogno charging that Madigan had "stonewalled" reform and that Democrats "protect the status quo."

Rauner insisted the proposal was not "dead on arrival" in Springfield, although Cullerton pronounced it just that.

"This is not going to happen," Cullerton said. "It’s mean-spirited and evidence of their total lack of knowledge of the real problems facing Chicago Public Schools.

"The unfair treatment of pension systems by the state is the immediate cause of CPS’ financial problem," Cullerton said. "That situation ought to be addressed rather than promoting this far-fetched notion that the state is somehow in the position to take over Chicago schools. This ridiculous idea only serves as a distraction from the state’s problems that these two state leaders should be focusing on."

CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool rejected the idea out of hand, calling it a "distraction" and "frankly, a sideshow."

"The governor is defending a school funding system that is separate but unequal," Claypool said. "Our children are facing systematic discrimination. CPS represents 20 percent of state enrollment, but gets just 15 percent of state funding, even though 86 percent of our children live in poverty.

"The missing 5 percent represents nearly $500 million, the exact amount of our budget gap," he added. "Our children's futures are just as important as those in the suburbs and downstate. But the state does not value them equally."

Rauner said Claypool's request wasn't reasonable and Radogno agreed.

"I don't agree with those numbers," she said. "You can do a lot with numbers." She insisted CPS is actually receiving 24 percent of state education funding.

Claypool called the proposal and Rauner's support for it "deeply irresponsible," pointing to how "CPS and the [Chicago Teachers Union] are working feverishly to reach a deal that would cut costs while preventing midyear layoffs." He labeled the proposal a "reckless smokescreen that distracts from the real financial problems facing CPS," and called on the governor to "pass a state budget that treats CPS students equally with the rest of the state."

The union agreed, issuing a statement saying, "Since the governor was elected, government in Illinois has ground to a halt, and this proposal is just the latest example of the ‘bull in a china shop’ methods in which he clumsily attempts to lead.

"A call for Springfield to assume responsibility of the finances of Chicago Public Schools is a non-starter when state government has so far been unable to assume responsibility for its own budget."

Rauner said state control would last only until CPS regained financial stability, and that jurisdiction over the district would then be turned over to an elected school board. Yet he pointedly added that he would seek new legislation restricting the teachers' union from funding any candidates by extending "pay for play" bans to limit what he called the union's "ability to manipulate the political system."

"We can take on the teachers' union in Chicago," he said, adding, "The mayor is afraid of them."

Mayoral spokeswoman Kelley Quinn struck back at Rauner.

"Giving control of our children's future to a governor who can't pass his own budget, who is racking up billions in unpaid bills and who is crippling higher education across the state makes zero sense," Quinn said. "With just a few weeks to go before [Rauner delivers] a second budget address without having passed his first budget, it's clear the Republicans in Springfield are trying desperately to distract from their own failures."

 Members of Raise Your Hand, an advocacy group for public education, spoke out against a plan to force CPS to declare bankruptcy.
Members of Raise Your Hand, an advocacy group for public education, spoke out against a plan to force CPS to declare bankruptcy.
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DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer

The Chicago Teachers Union accused Rauner of "holding Illinois citizens hostage with his austerity agenda," while Rauner countered that Madigan "has held our school systems hostage."

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) chimed in, saying, "With this maneuver, Gov. Rauner has laid bare his true intentions. His purpose in stubbornly refusing to work with CPS, even at the risk of costing the jobs of thousands of teachers, is now clear: to force our public schools into layoffs and bankruptcy, in order to promote his political agenda.

“Instead of the GOP trying to hijack city government and our public schools and public services, long-term, attainable solutions for state funding are required," he added.

In a demonstration at the Thompson Center ahead of the Radogno-Durkin news conference, Raise Your Hand, which advocates for public education in Illinois, called the plan a "direct attack" on teachers and said it would cause chaos for students and their families.

"Bruce Rauner doesn't have a clue about what's happening at CPS," said Huu Nguyen, who has children in the district. "He's wanted to blow up the district for years, and that's why he's not offered one solution to actually helping stabilize the finances of our system.

"He can't even pass a budget, and now he's taking it out on the families and the children at CPS."

Nguyen was surrounded by other parents, all of them carrying signs that said, "Bruce, don't blow up CPS! Bankruptcy is not a solution." Among them was Jennie Biggs, a Raise Your Hand board member and mother of three kids in CPS. She called Rauner's plan a "dystopian vision" that didn't align with research into education.

The plan is "window dressing to further privatize our schools," Biggs said. "I think it would put our whole entire system in chaos — a lot of instability, a lot of uncertainty for our students, our teachers, families throughout the city."

Instead, the state needs to generate more revenue to help CPS, said Cassie Creswell of Raise Your Hand. The city can funnel some of the money from a TIF surplus to CPS, CPS could make cuts in its central office and "crony contracts" should be re-examined, Creswell said.

"It's gonna take something from CPS, the city and the state, and we don't need to blow up the district, we don't need to have this ridiculous bankruptcy thing floated," Creswell said. "That's not a solution."

Rauner insisted he wanted to see no teachers lose their jobs, and that bankruptcy would be a last option.

He joked about the political tussle while being bandaged up after giving blood.

"In politics, you learn to heal fast," Rauner said. "No bruising allowed."

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