CHICAGO — Facing stalled negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Public Schools officials announced Tuesday that the district will have to impose $120 million in cuts, $20 million more than CPS CEO Forrest Claypool had originally proposed.
The move will amount to a 4.87 percent cut to per-pupil funding in district-run and charter schools across the city, according to the announcement. Combined with other cost-cutting measures, officials said, the move could save the district up to $325 million each year.
The district's 2015-16 budget included a $480 million hole Claypool hoped state funding would be able to plug by the new year. But with few signs of movement in Springfield, the schools chief said, he and his central staff have no choice but to take drastic action.
“These painful reductions are not the steps that we want to take, but they are the steps we must take as our cash position becomes tighter every day — especially as the District relies on short-term financing to pay its bills," Claypool was quoted as saying in a Tuesday news release. "We are doing everything in our power to sustain the gains our students are making in their classrooms.”
Officials hope to use federal money, they said, to soften the blow and make sure the most poorly-resourced schools are spared the worst of the cuts.
The district will shake loose nearly $48 million in Title I and Title II funding, intended to boost schools in high-poverty areas, in order to "continue some functions at schools and mitigate some of the cuts," according to the release.
In a news release issued late Wednesday afternoon, union officials responded that the cuts "unnecessary and completely retaliatory, and not at all evident of some urgent crisis in our schools." The release went on to say it would continue to push for a contract "now that the district has finally begun negotiating in earnest."
Claypool first mentioned the mid-year budget slash last week, after union negotiators rejected a contract deal the schools chief had called a "true compromise" that would have prevented more layoffs. He had already announced a purge of CPS administrative employees, which factored into the cuts announced Tuesday.
Union president Karen Lewis called the proposed cuts "an act of war," and vice president Jesse Sharkey dismissed them as a "pressure tactic" designed to bring teachers back to the negotiating table.
But Claypool insisted the cuts were unavoidable absent a settled contract, calling them "something I'd hoped to avoid at all costs."
Paired with the school cuts will be the controversial "pension pickup" for teachers, according to the release.
CPS pays 7 percentage points of the 9 percent of pay teachers are obliged to contribute for their pensions. By CPS calculations, the pension pickup would save the district $150 million annually, with an "additional $20 million possible" if negotiators strike a contract deal.
But the proposal hasn't sat well with teachers, with Lewis calling the pickup "strike-worthy."
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