CPS teachers, parents protest 1,400 layoffs, $200M in cuts

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Thursday, July 2, 2015
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Hundreds of Chicago Public Schools teachers and parents protested at City Hall Thursday morning.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Hundreds of Chicago Public Schools teachers and parents protested at City Hall Thursday morning following 1,400 layoffs and $200 million in cuts to meet a teachers' pension deadline.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel delayed a $634 million pension payment until the eleventh-hour on Tuesday, waiting to see any relief would come from state lawmakers. It never came.

The mayor and Interim CPS CEO Jesse Ruiz outlined on Wednesday who would be laid off and where cuts would be made.

Ruiz said most of the 1,400 jobs cut were in administration and special education programs. Very few teachers were laid off. Funding for elementary sports teams was cut, the facility maintenance budget was reduced 25 percent and highs schools are starting 45 minutes later. The mayor said schools will open on time in the fall and class sizes will not be affected.

"I think paying more into a fund when I've been contributing into the fund with integrity, and (we're) the only group that has done so in the past 20 years, I think it's ridiculous to ask us to pay more," said Crain Cleve, a CPS teacher.

"I feel like I do really well at my job and I work really hard, I'm not looking to take a pay cut," said Karen Trine, a CPS high school teacher.

"We owe our teachers, our kids and our families, better," Emanuel said. He outlined two plans on how to tackle the pension problem.

Option "A" would be for state lawmakers to create one pension system statewide. Right now, Chicago residents are taxed twice. They pay for Chicago teachers' pensions, as well as suburban and downstate teachers. Option "B" is what Emanuel calls an "all in" approach: ask Springfield to boost funding, make teachers contribute more to pension costs, and increase property taxes.

The CTU is against asking teachers to pay, but would like to see targeted tax increases.

"They can declare a TIF surplus, which would bring in tens of millions of dollars, they can work with us and go down to the Illinois legislature and talk about things like a LaSalle Street tax, which would bring in tens of billions of dollars, they can talk about a graduated tax," said Michael E. Brunson, Chicago Teachers Union recording secretary.

Teachers have paid into the pension fund. CPS has not and now it's coming back to haunt the city. For years, the district took what they called pension holidays, skipping payments to fund other things.

"The reason CPS was doing this because the state was providing inadequate funding to educate children, they didn't want to go after property tax, so let's borrow what we owe the pension system," said Ralph Martire, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

Martire says for years, the city used the teachers' pension fund as a credit card, but the state constitution says pensions must be fully funded, and the time has come to pay it back.

"We are going to keep fighting, we need to come up with revenue solutions, we are out of money," said Kristine Mayley, Chicago Teachers Union.

"We agree that these cuts are painful and intolerable - and we wouldn't be here if Springfield were prioritizing education funding. We urge CTU leaders and members to join us in concentrating our energy on the one place that can partner on a comprehensive solution to close our $1.1 billion budget gap and prevent even deeper, more painful cuts - Springfield," Ruiz said in a statement.