400 CPS teachers to get the ax this week; 200 other staffers also targeted on eve of key budget talks

Thursday, July 22, 2010

It has begun. The first round of the long-anticipated, school-based layoffs by Chicago Public Schools to deal with a record $370 million budget deficit will claim 600 staffers by week's end.

Notices began going out Wednesday to 400 classroom teachers and 200 educational support personnel, a CPS official said. The 600 represent staff at about 200 Track E elementary schools that start their year earlier than most schools, on Aug. 10.

The notifications -- actually confirmations of the layoff-possibility notices CPS and other districts were required by law to have sent teachers earlier this summer in the face of an Illinois cash crunch -- come as the district and Chicago Teachers Union prepare for budget talks that start Friday.

On the same day the notices went out, CTU President Karen Lewis issued a statement calling on CPS to commit to hiring back before any new teachers 239 "citywide" teachers not formally attached to classrooms who were fired June 30.

Harkening to CPS Chief Ron Huberman's 2010 back-to-school slogan, "Show up! First Day and Every Day," Lewis said: "I hope Mr. Huberman sends the same message to his Human Capital department. . . . We demand fully certified, highly qualified teachers in every classroom 'First Day and Every Day,' and we plan to help students and schools get just that."

But according to Alicia Winckler, the district's chief human capital officer, a second round of layoffs affecting staff at about 400 schools that return after Labor Day is expected to claim 1,000 classroom teachers and "a few hundred" school clerks and assistants. Those staffers will get notices in two to three weeks.

Once projected as high as 2,700 teachers, Huberman recently said layoffs could exceed 1,200. Winckler on Wednesday said layoffs of teachers and support personnel "could exceed 1,500." But counting staff already canned, it appears closer to 2,000.

The notices that went out Wednesday and today are mostly the result of the high school class size increase -- to 33 from 28 -- and cuts to bilingual education and world language classes, Winckler said. Raising elementary class sizes had earlier been on the table, but CPS opted against it after getting $57 million from the state at the end of June. With that and $18 million in new cuts, CPS also canceled plans to increase high-school classes to 35.

The layoffs in the next month also result from the new high school class size and undisclosed program cuts. On the table are cuts in magnet, gifted, enrichment and after-school activities.

Huberman has maintained that teacher layoffs could be avoided if CTU and other bargaining units agree to concessions, as is happening in other school districts, saying $135 million could be shaved if unions forgo promised 4 percent pay raises.

Lewis, however, told the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board Wednesday that her 26,000-member union already conceded by taking pension hits, and she said looking to the unions takes the onus off Mayor Daley and lawmakers to solve the state and city education funding problem.

"Everyone should give their fair share," Lewis said.
"But if we agree to this, then Springfield won't have to close the gap. If we give -- and we've already given from our pensions -- what is the impetus for Springfield to do their part in this?

"If Springfield pays its bills, we'll be done with this for this year," Lewis maintained. "Of course, there's next year and the year after that, but we all know that this goes back to the state funding formula, and the fact that our schools have been starved of the resources for years because of a variety of TIFs [tax increment financing districts] and other things that came into play."

Even as the layoffs and salary issues heighten the challenge of union negotiations, however, she said she remains optimistic.

"I think there's been a huge dysfunctional relationship between the union and CPS for years, period. My membership wants that to change," she said. "I would like to be able to have substantial conversations with Ron Huberman. I think there will be areas where we agree. I think there will be areas where we disagree."