CPS lays off 227 staffers, eliminates vacant posts

CHICAGO -- In an attempt to nearly a nearly half billion budget gap, the Chicago Public Schools on Friday laid off 227 administrative staff at its Central office and eliminated 180 already-vacant positions.

Some laid-off employees spoke with reporters outside CPS offices.

"Yeah, I got laid off but, hey, it's the next thing, that's all I can say," said Marcus Thomas, a former CPS records coordinator who was laid off Friday morning after 21 years.

"What's on my mind is just going home and telling my wife 'Okay, it's the next thing, honey.' That's pretty much it," Thomas said.

To cut $45 million in spending annually, the district eliminated 433 central office support and administrative positions since August. CPS--with a half billion dollar budget shortfall--warned of the cuts months ago as part of its effort to avoid laying off teachers.

"It is better to make cuts in the Central Office so you protect the classroom," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday.

Another laid-off worker also spoke to reporters after getting laid off, saying "Feeling a little surprised, but kind of expected it."

The laid-off employee, who declined to give his name, said he was upset that he couldn't help disadvantaged children anymore.

"I just recently dealt with donations of winter coats. It's cold out. I need to get coats to schools and I was one of the few people to do that here, so," the laid-off employee said.

The announcement comes at a difficult time for the district, which has roughly 400,000 students and faces a $1.1 billion budget deficit and the potential of midyear teacher layoffs.

"There's no doubt that these cuts are painful," schools CEO Forrest Claypool said in a statement Friday. "However, with limited resources and a budget crisis not just this year but into the foreseeable future, we had no choice."

Tough contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union, which went on strike in 2012, are ongoing. Earlier this week, top Illinois Republicans called for a state takeover of the district because of the fiscal crisis, a plan Democrats and Chicago school officials blasted.

CPS source has given up hope for state aid before the second semester starts on Feb. 8. Meanwhile, the district will meet with the teacher's union to achieve concessions that they said will avoid teacher layoffs that could affect the quality of instruction in the classrooms.

CPS administrations dating back 20 years to the early days of the Daley administration claimed to have "cut the central office" repeatedly to make the district more efficient.

However, Sara Karp, a longtime education reporter now working at the watchdog organization, the Better Government Association, said that cutting doesn't always mean CPS is saving money.

Karp said after past central office cuts CPS re-hires employees or adds new workers.

"And so, what you wind up having is more of a reshuffling of the deck chairs instead of real cuts," Karp said.

The mayor vowed this round of cuts will be different:

"We'll walk you through all the line items so you'll have them and we're going to continue to make cuts. And if anything it shows that the Central office was bloated," Emanuel said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.