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Budget watchdog blasts CPS for silence on pension reform

Budget watchdog Civic Federation calls out CPS for taking a short-term approach to a long-term problem in a new report.

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A budget watchdog group is calling out Chicago Public Schools for not being more proactive with getting pension reform passed in Springfield.

“It’s not enough for the district to say, ‘Springfield needs to act on pension reform,’ although that would have been an improvement from what we’ve heard so far, which has been silence,” said Laurence Msall, president of the nonpartisan government watchdog Civic Federation.

The Civic Federation released an 83-page analysis of the school district’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2014 that argues the district is again taking a short-term approach to a long-term problem. The budget analysis suggests CPS should develop and advocate its own pension reform proposal, not just push for another pension holiday. The report also pushes for an increase in employee retirement contributions.

District spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the district supports “reforms similar to those in SB1,” referring to House Speaker Mike Madigan’s attempt at pension reform. The bill proposed cutting cost of living increases, raising the retirement age and increasing employee contributions.

“We will continue to rigorously push for pension reform as we did last session and hope that union leadership will come to the table willing to support the kinds of reforms necessary to provide significant financial relief for our schools,” Carroll said in an e-mailed statement.

CPS released a budget last month that included $68 million in cuts to classrooms and, in an eyebrow-raising move, drew down almost $700 million from reserves, a fund the district drained to zero last year, as well. The Board of Education is expected to vote on the proposed budget next Wednesday.

In the analysis, Msall urged the district to publish more personnel data, require consistent financial reporting from the city’s privately operated charter schools and give the public more time to review the proposal before holding hearings. This year, the proposed budget came out six working days before the first hearing. Msall suggested at least 10 days.

The full report is embedded below.

Becky Vevea is a producer for WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZeducation.

Civic Federation Analysis CPS FY2014 Budget by Chicago Public Media

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