ROSELAND — Chicago Public Schools blamed unequal state education funding for its threatened exodus of principals and teachers Tuesday, but insisted the problem is not more severe this year than in the recent past.
At a ceremony saluting Safe Passage workers at Chicago State University Tuesday, CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson asserted that inequitable state education funding under Gov. Bruce Rauner had placed the district at "a competitive disadvantage for retaining our best principals and teachers."
Jackson repeated calls that Chicago taxpayers pay double on teacher pensions, paying into a statewide fund with income taxes that goes to pay for districts statewide, and into CPS' own separate teacher pension fund through property taxes.
CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool said last week the district would be strapped after making a mandatory $700 million pension payment at the end of the month.
"The longer Gov. Rauner stands in the way of equitably funding education, the more CPS will be at a competitive disadvantage for retaining our best principals and teachers, who will always have other options whether it’s out of state or in the suburbs," Jackson said. "While CPS’ retirement rates of both principals and teachers are in line with previous years, the longer the governor’s intransigence drags on, the more concerned we'll become about potential losses.
"If CPS were treated like every other district in the state, this wouldn't be a concern," Jackson added. "Our principals and teachers are leaving for jobs where their district doesn't have to take hundreds of millions of dollars out of the classroom to fund their pensions — and this is one of the reasons we are fighting so hard for equitable funding."
CPS lost high-profile principals at Lake View High School and Lane Tech College Prep Monday, prompting fears of a mass exodus of city educators to the suburbs.
Yet Chicago Teachers Union spokeswoman Sara Echevarria said it was disingenuous to blame the problems entirely on the state.
"It's a reflection of all that's wrong with the state, but especially with CPS," she said. Echevarria cited the stress and pressure of working under a series of schools chiefs under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as well as student-based budgeting and privatized janitorial services, among other principal headaches.
For all that, CPS presented data showing that the 54 principals lost thus far this school year was not out of line with recent losses in years past. According to the district, 33 principals have resigned and 21 retired. That compared to 46 lost last year, 49 in 2014 and 33 in 2013, the end of the school year that began with the Chicago Teachers Union strike in fall 2012. Some 37 principals resigned two years ago, more than thus far this year.
Those numbers aren't even close to the 109 principals that left four years ago and 112 the year before that, but that was primarily due to rampant retirements under a pension-enhancement program that was expiring.
Yet Echevarria said those were actually warning signs. "Usually, retirements are higher than the resignations," Echevarria said, calling 33 resignations "a red flag." She added that student-based budgeting that took effect two years ago may have led to that spike in resignations.
"The student-based budgeting has been a huge problem for principals," she said. And those problems are only escalating now with threats schools may not even open in the fall without a state spending plan in place.
Echevarria added that there may be more principal resignations as the school year ends and summer break begins. "I am not surprised," she said. "I saw this coming where this district was going to be unmanageable because it's going to come to a screeching halt."
She warned that the district had depleted its bench in recent years, replacing principals, and that inevitably inexperienced new principals will be put in place in the fall — if schools open at all.
"Who would be crazy enough to want to be a principal?" Echevarria said.
Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel exchanged barbs over education funding Monday. Rauner compared some CPS schools to "crumbling prisons," and Emanuel lashed back that Rauner seemed to be "auditioning to be Donald Trump's running mate."
Rauner's remarks led to a backlash on social media under the hashtag #notaprison, but Rauner refused to back down Tuesday, insisting he'd been in "dozens" of Chicago schools and "in too many of them, I cry. Tears come into my eyes."
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