If teachers freeze pay, reverse some layoffs

Friday, July 23, 2010

It turns out Chicago wasn't bluffing about teacher layoffs. About 400 Chicago Public Schools teachers were let go this week. And by early August, an additional 1,000 teachers will be cut, CPS tells us.

It turns out the school system's $370 million budget deficit -- down from about $1 billion earlier this year -- wasn't part of a scheme to force teachers to accept a wage freeze, as has been alleged.

But how solid is that number? And, most importantly, are there ways other than massive layoffs to cut the budget?
These questions are being raised by the new Chicago Teachers Union leadership, which took office July 1.
They're right to ask.

The CTU, led by President Karen Lewis, is supposed to sit down today with CPS for budget talks.

CTU has asked for reams of budget documents, including details on all CPS funding sources, documents that justify teacher layoffs and a list of all CPS vendors. Lewis says CPS has failed to produce those key documents, a charge that CPS Chief Financial Officer Diana Ferguson denies. Nevertheless, Ferguson told us Thursday that if anything is missing she'll make sure CTU gets it.

Before CTU members consider a wage freeze or anything budget-related, Lewis says, her team needs to comb through the budget. That's good stewardship.

We don't expect they'll find a golden goose hidden in the spreadsheets, though. This is a real budget crisis, and we believe one key way to lessen its blow is through teacher wage concessions -- a move that will help reverse some layoffs. We urge teachers, who are getting a 4 percent salary increase, to accept a wage freeze.

We also hope the CTU budget review will produce recommendations for less destructive cuts than some CPS has already made. Specifically, we're appalled by the layoff last month of 214 teacher coaches.

These are master teachers -- plucked from the classroom because of their skills -- who shepherd teachers through their first year in the classroom, who help peers make the most of a new curriculum, who help teachers find new ways to reach seemingly unreachable students.

Those layoffs come on the heels of major firings earlier this year in CPS departments that drive improvements in teaching and learning. Together, those staffers and coaches made up a powerful educational apparatus, built up over many years, that executed a vision for a better CPS, for a CPS that did more than tread water.

With these layoffs, including the pending loss of 1,400 classroom teachers, we see little vision for a better CPS.