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Rauner Is 'Acting Like Trump,' Forcing $46M In Mid-Year CPS Cuts: Claypool

By Heather Cherone | February 6, 2017 1:43pm | Updated on February 6, 2017 3:57pm
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CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools officials said Monday they would slash $46 million from public schools' budgets as they scramble to fill the hole blown in the district's budget by Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of $215 million officials had been counting on.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool likened Rauner to President Donald Trump and accused him of attacking the "most vulnerable among us — largely poor and minority students — to score points in a political chess match."

RELATED: SEE HOW $46M IN CUTS AFFECT YOUR SCHOOL

The governor's veto was "wrong and immoral" and "cements racial discrimination that violates the civil rights of our children and threatens their very future," Claypool said during a news conference at CPS headquarters.

"Just like Donald Trump, [Rauner] is going to score political points with his base by attacking Chicago," Claypool said. "It is the easy thing to do. In our case, he is attacking poor kids."

Eleni Demertzis, a spokeswoman for the governor, accused Claypool of attempting to "rewrite history and distract from 20 years of fiscal mismanagement by Chicago Public Schools."

"Governor and Mrs. Rauner have been decades-long philanthropic supporters of Chicago students and teachers, investing their time and resources into improving education outcomes,” Demertzis said.

Claypool urged parents and Chicagoans to "take the fight to Springfield" and demand the governor support equal funding for Chicago's schools.

Claypool said the school district is weighing whether to file suit against the state for picking up a greater share of the bill for teachers pensions in school districts outside Chicago — where the majority of students are white — than for Chicago's teachers, where the district is primarily made up of black and Latino students.

Claypool seemed to rule out another tax hike for Chicago property owners.

"Chicago taxpayers are not shortchanging our schools," Claypool said. "This is entirely on the governor's shoulders."

But Claypool did not rule out ending the school year early to ensure that the district had enough money to pay its bills and keep its budget out of the red.

"Choices beyond the cuts announced today become more painful," Claypool said.

CPS officials said they would freeze half of schools' discretionary funds, which can be used to purchase textbooks and technology as well as to pay for afterschool programs, field trips and hourly staff totaling $46 million. However, in an attempt to avoid penalizing schools that squirreled away money, schools will lose no more than 5 percent of their overall budget, officials said.

The school district will save another $5 million by canceling professional development events for the district's central office staff. Unless the state funds are restored, charter schools will also see their budgets slashed by $18 million by the end of the year, officials said.

Janice Jackson, the district's chief education officer, said the cuts would reverse the academic gains made by students in recent years.

Officials said they would release a breakdown of how each school's budget would be affected by the end of Monday.

This is the second year in a row Chicago Public Schools officials have cut schools' budgets in the middle of the school year.

CPS had counted on the $215 million vetoed by Rauner to pay employees' pensions when that bill comes due in the summer.The School Board is expected to consider the cuts at its Feb. 22 meeting. CPS, which has a low credit rating, would be hard-pressed to borrow money, forcing officials to impose cuts at schools across the city.

Last month, Claypool ordered four unpaid furlough days for all school district employees to save $35 million. The first unpaid day was Friday, and more than 100 teachers protested outside the mayor's office.

In all, the cuts announced by schools' officials fill about half of the gap created by Rauner's veto.

The fiscal crisis for the school district began in November, when Rauner blamed Illinois Senate President John Cullerton for torpedoing a compromise inked in June that allowed schools to open in September. Part of that deal promised Chicago schools an additional $215 million to help cover its pension obligations — in return for statewide "pension reform," a long-held goal of the governor.

However, Cullerton said in a statement that he did not break the agreement and was willing to continue hammering out an agreement with the governor on pension reform.

In a message to legislators, Rauner said he would not sign the bill because it would amount to a "bailout" for CPS.

Rauner and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan have been locked in a bitter fight over the Illinois budget.

The governor wants lawmakers to adopt his agenda, which he says will spur business growth in Illinois as part of a budget agreement. Democrats have refused, and the impasse lasted nearly two years.