LAKEVIEW — On the eve of "doomsday" cuts to Chicago Public Schools, the city schools chief denied the plans were a way to pressure the teachers union amid contract negotiations.
"The crisis is very real. It's not trying to get concessions — it's keeping our schools' doors open for our students," CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool said. "We have no choice but to move forward with some classroom cuts."
Claypool was an unannounced participant in a Monday night forum addressing the state of CPS held at Blaine Elementary School, 1420 W. Grace St., in Lakeview.
On Tuesday, CPS is set to implement $100 million in school budget cuts and no longer pick up pension payments for teachers. Officials said principals would meet to discuss their staffing options Tuesday afternoon after school.
Claypool renewed his call for the city to receive equal education funding from the state, rather than the 73 cents for every dollar spent on students in other districts.
"The state can decide to spend this fund or that fund on whatever the hell they want," Claypool said. "But what they can't do is provide 27 percent less dollars to poor minority kids in one part of the state. They can't do that."
Tuesday's cuts come two weeks after CPS trimmed $45 million from its central offices, laying off 227 administrative employees and eliminating 180 vacant positions. In all, the cuts are estimated to save $320 million of the $480 million shortfall in funding the district budgeted this year.
More than 200 parents and supporters turned out for the two-hour forum to press officials on the impending budget cuts and ongoing teacher contract negotiations.
One answer critics said Claypool did not provide was why Tuesday's cuts were unavoidable, with another $725 million borrowed and aldermen lining up to offer Tax Increment Financing dollars to help CPS.
SCROLL DOWN FOR LIVE TWEETS FROM MONDAY'S MEETING
Using TIF money to patch the CPS funding hole has "met with a lot of approval" from City Council, said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th).
"Ald. Pawar has used TIF very creatively to bring money" to his ward, Tunney said. "And we believe schools are an economic development tool."
One Blaine teacher asked why CPS wasn't pursuing legal action against banks accused of making $77 million on "toxic" loans to the district.
"Inevitably, I'm sure my salary will go down some way or another. I would, for one, feel more comfortable knowing we went down every single path we absolutely could for a source of revenue," she said.
Claypool didn't rule it out, but said he would wait for a lawyer to present a viable plan. As for suing the state over unequal funding, CPS will "use every single option that we have, whether it's political, legal or moral ... ultimately, to protect our kids," Claypool said.
CPS should cancel plans to build the selective enrollment Obama College Prep, Blaine parent Erica Salem said. Principals made a similar plea in December, but Claypool said the $60 million in capital funding could not be transferred to district operations regardless of the school being built.
"There are other ways to spend capital without building a new school," Salem responded.
Claypool spoke alongside Tunney (44th), state Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), state Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago), Chicago Catalyst reporter Melissa Sanchez and parent activist Wendy Katten.
"We have to pay for nice things, and we have a real revenue issue," said Katten, spokeswoman for public education advocacy group Raise Your Hand. "We can't have a 3 percent flat tax and expect to have nice things."
Williams and Cullerton called for a short-term solution to the current crisis, but said there was an equal need for a long-term restructuring of how the state funds education and teacher pensions.
"For 10 years, CPS used money that would have otherwise gone to pay for pensions," Williams said. "It doesn't take a financial wiz to figure out that will create financial problems in the long run."
Since November, Claypool has pointed to a "broken school-funding formula" as a central dilemma to the budget crisis. In late 2015, he threatened "devastating cuts" including 5,000 teacher positions if the state didn't pass a budget that included $480 million for the city's teacher pensions.
Panel members did agree that Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposal to have the state assume control of CPS was "the last thing we want," as Katten put it.
"That would require changing the law," Cullerton said. "And that is not going to happen as long as I am president of the senate."
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