Chicago teachers challenge job cuts in court

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Chicago Teachers Union has filed a federal lawsuit against the Chicago Public Schools in an attempt to halt the dismissals of hundreds of teachers and support staff.

CTU President Karen Lewis said Tuesday the school board is arbitrarily dismissing some of the system's most qualified teachers in a manner that violates their constitutional rights to due process under the 14th Amendment and their current labor contract. The lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court seeks the reinstatement of all teachers and support staff dismissed to date.

"The Board has fired, is firing and threatens to continue firing teachers capriciously, callously and without legal grounds," Lewis said.

In a statement released late Tuesday afternoon, CPS officials denied that the dismissals were made in a capricious manner.

"While all layoffs are painful, one of our choices was to lay off teachers who received 'unsatisfactory' ratings in their evaluations prior to laying off higher performing teachers," CPS CEO Ron Huberman said. "We believe that this approach is in the best interest of our students, and we're disappointed that the union does not share this view."

The school district announced plans last week to lay off 400 classroom teachers and 200 support personnel in an attempt to deal with a record $370 million budget deficit. Layoff notices began going out last Wednesday, two days before Friday's start of budget talks with the teachers union.

Most of those affected worked in about 200 elementary schools that start Aug. 10, earlier than most schools. Those schools serve almost 100,000 students, or nearly a quarter of the system's total enrollment.

Alicia Winckler, the school system's head of personnel, said the dismissals were mostly the result of an increase in high school class sizes -- to 33 students -- and cuts to bilingual education and world language classes.

Huberman recently said systemwide layoffs could reach 1,200 by Labor Day, but Winckler said the number could exceed 1,500.