Teachers, principals not buying CPS's rosy outlook

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Two different worlds.

That's what was described at a Chicago School Board meeting Wednesday, as board officials calmly insisted they would be ready to open schools Sept. 7 with a balanced budget and hundreds of restored jobs - while teachers and principals complained of chaos in the trenches.

The president of the Chicago Principals Association, Clarice Berry, asked "what idiot'' came up with the idea of asking principals planning to retire to do so in January - eight weeks before critical state tests are given. The earlier retirement would avoid furlough days that would reduce their pensions.

"Everything sounds wonderful at this meeting,'' Berry said after hearing Chicago Public Schools chief Ron Huberman describe how he closed the final $370 million budget gap and now plans to restore some of 1,250 teaching jobs by Sept. 7. "But when you're running a school, nobody tells you anything or what they tell you is wrong.''

One laid-off high school teacher complained that some principals didn't show up at 11th-hour job fairs, so there was no one to interview teachers. Another said she believed no one wanted to hire her because her coveted national certification and experience made her too expensive.

"Certainly those our not our directions,'' Huberman said. "Our directions are to hire the very best teachers possible.''

Meanwhile Wednesday, school board members finally approved a $6.5 billion budget that would draw down the system's reserve fund to zero. However, in response to criticism, officials said they plan to restructure bonds to avoid hitting zero.

Alicia Winckler, chief of the school system's human capital office, said officials want to open the January pension enhancement window to minimize the pension effects of six newly ordered furlough days.

Berry called the idea "stupid," saying most principals retire at the end of the school year. She said more than 40 principals and assistant principals are eligible to retire in January, and if they do, their schools would have to scramble to find replacements in mid-school year.

Winckler said officials will work with Berry to achieve "an amicable solution,'' but she insisted that midyear retirements are not unusual.

By Sept. 7's opening day, the school system expects to rescind the layoffs of high school teachers who lost their jobs to class-size increases that were later canceled due to a last-minute influx of federal funds, Winkler said. Some bilingual education jobs also will be restored by then, she said.

Teachers with unsatisfactory ratings will not be called back, officials said.

Huberman warned that the system wants to have the entire $106 million in new federal jobs money in hand before it restores other teaching positions. That could be months after school starts, he said.