CPS board announces 2014 budget cuts amid protests

July 25, 2013 5:00:18 AM PDT
The Chicago Public Schools board held its first meeting since the layoffs were announced last week, and the hits keep coming.

On Wednesday, the board released a 2014 budget that affects everyone from CPS employees to all Illinois taxpayers.

"We've always looked at fiscal 2014 with trepidation and alarm," said CPS fiscal chief Tim Cawley.

Facing a $1 billion budget deficit and hoping to bridge the gap, Chicago Public Schools today announced a 2014 budget that hits everyone from students to taxpayers.

"This budget which will be presented to you reflects many difficult choices," said CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Among the measures announced in the budget proposal are:

  • $111 million in administration cuts.

  • $68 million dollars in classroom cuts, including teacher layoffs, and raising CPS' share of the Cook County property tax to the greatest extent allowed by law, an increase that translates into an average of $51 dollars per homeowner.

  • And because all that wasn't enough, the rest of the deficit will be covered by using nearly $700 million dollars in reserves.

"We need a structural fix. We need to not be paying $600 million a year for pensions and we need to not get low funding from the state," said Cawley.

Before Wednesday's board meeting, about 100 protesters marched from CPS headquarters to the Thompson Center and back, demanding fewer cuts, specifically those that include teacher layoffs.

"The morale of teachers in Chicago is so low now, it's going to hurt for a long time," said Katie Hogan, CPS teacher.

Meanwhile Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis insists the budget problem is not about pension costs, but rather, a lack of revenue.

"We need to go to Springfield to get rid of this regressive flat tax. We need a progressive income tax and that's why Illinois looks so bad," said Lewis.

Teachers, students and activists hit the streets Wednesday to protest the latest move by Chicago Public Schools to cut 2,100 jobs.

Wednesday was the first meeting of the school board since the layoffs were announced last week, due to budget cuts.

The protest was very emotional for many teachers and support staff who received layoff notices last Friday. Some protesters on Clark Street were chanting "lay off the school board."

Organizers say the demonstration outside CPS headquarters was meant to put pressure on the school board and on state leaders. The hope is, if they speak up loud enough, someone will hear.

"It's been disheartening. I received a call on Friday from my principal, and you know, just trying to get the pieces back together," said laid off teacher Kevin Trant. "I'd love to be back. I think there's still some hope that things can work out for the people who are out here today."

"The morale of teachers in Chicago is so low right now, it's going to really hurt for a long time, and not just this year," said CPS teacher Katie Hogan.

Protesters marched from CPS headquarters to the Thompson Center. They are calling on Gov. Pat Quinn to oppose a bill that would approve the public financing for a basketball arena for DePaul University near McCormick Place. They say that money should be used to plug the giant budget hole at CPS.

"We have money for everything else in this city. We have money for DePaul stadium, we have money for Penny Pritzker, we have money for River North development, but we don't have money for black and brown children in public schools," protester Shannon Carter.

The group of protesters said they wanted to meet with Quinn face to face, but the governor is out of town.

CPS says it is facing a $1 billion deficit this year, which led to 49 school closings.

Last month, 855 employees were laid off. CPS has blamed the financial mess in large part on state legislators who failed to pass pension reform. " CPS faces a historic $1 billion deficit driven by a $400 million increase in pension payments. The lack of pension reform in Springfield has brought this crisis into each of our schools, which is why we need meaningful pension reform to protect classroom investments in student learning and maintain the steady progress being made by our students. CPS has taken every step available to keep cuts as far away from classrooms as possible, including reducing central office, administrative and operations spending by more nearly $600 million since 2011 and another $112 million this fiscal year, but it is not enough to prevent principals from making very difficult decisions that have led to these unavoidable layoffs," a CPS statement read in part.

Chicago Teacher's Union President Karen Lewis says it is time for school board members to find different streams of revenue to plug the budget gap.

"Now, it's up to the Board of Education to look at its bottom line and not be bothered by the political issues of city hall. So, it's time for them to say, you know what? We need to look at a graduated income tax that's not so aggressive anymore," Lewis said.

Meanwhile, a group of 35 CPS students was expected to speak at the meeting about how the district's decision to close the public schools is affecting them.

More information about the school district's final budget cut proposal could become available Wednesday. CPS official will likely vote on the budget in August.


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