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CPS To Judge: School Will End 20 Days Early If State Won't Pay By May 1

 Chicago Public Schools lawyers asked a Cook County court judge Friday to force the State of Illinois to give the district more money by May 1 — or officials will have no choice but to end classes 20 days early.
Chicago Public Schools lawyers asked a Cook County court judge Friday to force the State of Illinois to give the district more money by May 1 — or officials will have no choice but to end classes 20 days early.
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DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson

CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools lawyers asked a Cook County court judge Friday to force the State of Illinois to give the district more money by May 1 — or officials will have no choice but to end classes 20 days early.

Judge Franklin Valderrama, who told lawyers that a member of his family works for the school district, made no ruling in the case, but agreed to a request by the school district to hold a hearing on their request for an immediate ruling on April 19.

Assistant Attorney General Tom Ioppolo, representing the state, told Valderrama it planned to ask him to dismiss the suit which he said would have serious problems "getting off the ground." The school district does not have the right to sue the state under the Civil Rights Act, he told the judge.

However, David DeBruin, representing the school district, said CPS would make a compelling legal argument that an immediate order forcing the state to give Chicago's public schools more money was "imperative."

"This is not a difficult case," DeBruin said.

DeBruin said the school district needed a decision by May 1, to allow parents to arrange for childcare.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool said the plan to cancel 13 days of instruction was "the worst-case scenario."

CPS would save $91 million by ending school June 1 instead of June 20 and save another $5 million by canceling summer school for all students except those in high school, according to its court filing.

If CPS does end school June 1, the district would lose $58.5 million in state aid during the 2017-18 school year because it would be nine days short of meeting the minimum number of days required by state law, according to calculations by the Illinois State Board of Education and CPS officials.

That loss of funding has already been accounted for, a CPS spokeswoman said.

The school district needs the funds to balance its budget — and pay its employees' pension fund $721 million by June 30.

Earlier this month, five families sued the state on behalf of CPS, claiming that the state has violated the civil rights of their children by giving Chicago schools less funding than other districts.

Claypool has repeatedly accused Gov. Bruce Rauner of supporting a "wrong and immoral" school-funding system that "cements racial discrimination that violates the civil rights of our children and threatens their very future."

The fiscal crisis for CPS began in November, when Rauner vetoed a bill that would have given Chicago schools an additional $215 million to help cover CPS pension obligations.

Rauner blamed Illinois Senate President John Cullerton for torpedoing a compromise inked last June that allowed schools to open in September. Part of that deal promised more money for Chicago schools in return for statewide "pension reform," a long-held goal of the governor.

CPS must pay its employees' pension fund $721 million by June 30.

CPS would save $91 million by ending school June 1 instead of June 20 and save another $5 million by canceling summer school for all students except those in high school, according to its court filing.

Even with the additional state money, CPS will "have to borrow hundreds of millions" to pay its bills, according to the court filing. Claypool declined to say how much the district will have to borrow.

Last month, Claypool ordered four unpaid furlough days for all CPS employees to save $35 million. Earlier this month, Claypool cut $5 million by canceling professional development events for its central office staff and slashed charter school budgets by $15 million by the end of the year, officials said.

Claypool cut another $31 million by freezing a portion of schools' discretionary funds, which can be used to purchase textbooks and technology as well as to pay for after-school programs, field trips and hourly staff.

Those cuts leave a deficit of $129 million, officials said.

In a message to legislators, Rauner said in November that he did not sign the school funding bill because it would amount to a "bailout" for CPS.

Cullerton denied breaking the agreement and said he was willing to continue working on pension reform with the governor.

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 has lasted nearly two years.