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CPS Admits State Fine For Ending Year Early Could Reach $60 Million

Chicago Public Schools’ officials acknowledged Thursday that the state may fine the district nearly  $60 million if it ends the school year early on June 1, which is 13 school days before summer break was scheduled to begin.

CPS this week downplayed how much the district could lose in state money and suggested it would top out at $30 million. WBEZ earlier this week estimated the loss at $18 million.

But district officials on Thursday admitted they had factored in a much larger potential loss of state aid --  $58.5 million -- all along. With a June 1 end date, CPS said it expects to save at least $91 million. Were there no potential state penalty, that figure would be $150 million.

The potential penalty would come for failing to provide the 176 instructional days required by law. CPS would be short nine days if it ends June 1, according to the state Board of Education. Initially, CPS had said it would be just five days short. CPS had hoped to count days when teachers were in school planning lessons, but students were not in attendance.

State officials said the maximum penalty would be a slightly lower amount, $45.5 million. CPS said it’s basing its estimate on the daily state aid of about $6.5 million. But the state is basing their estimate on $5.1 million per day.

The state penalty has been in play since CPS CEO Forrest Claypool threatened last week to end school early to save money.

After a series of mid-year cost-cutting measures, including mandating four unpaid days for staff when classes are not in session and cutting school budgets, CPS still must fill a $129 million budget hole by June. Claypool calls an early end to the year a “worst-case scenario” and an option he is trying to avoid.

Claypool wants the state to fill CPS’ budget hole, arguing the state shortchanges Chicago because, unlike other Illinois districts, Chicago must cover the costs of its teachers pensions. Last month, CPS sued the state, alleging the state is discriminating against Chicago’s mostly black and Latino students by not providing them as much money as other districts.

The district wants a judge to fast track the case, saying it needs to know by April whether it can afford to keep school open until the scheduled end of the year on June 20. The first hearing before a Cook County judge is Friday.

This is coming to a head now because CPS must make a $721 million pension payment June 30.

Illinois Education Secretary Beth Purvis said the district’s crisis is of its own making. She points out that Claypool budgeted $215 million from the state this year even though that was never guaranteed.

Rauner vetoed a bill in December that would have provided that $215 million to CPS, saying that it was contingent on passage of a bill to reform the state’s pensions system. That hasn’t happened.

“Instead of blaming someone who’s been in office for two years, it would be helpful if the mayor was asking why his district’s chief created a budget that depended on revenue that hadn’t been appropriated by the General Assembly,” Purvis said in a statement.

This is the second year in a row that Claypool has counted on money from the state that was never appropriated.

If Claypool is forced to close schools on June 1, the district wouldn’t be fined until next year. But the state and CPS have been at odds over how many days CPS would be below the required 176 if the district ended school June 1.

CPS officials said the district would still have 171 official days, leaving it just five days short. But state officials, which are not counting days teachers are in school without students, said CPS would only have 167 days, making it nine days short.

Confronted with the state’s number of days, CPS acknowledged to WBEZ that it had factored nine days into its nearly $60 million estimate of how much it might lose from the state.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her at @wbezeducation and @sskedreporter.

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