CPS: School Year May End Early If State Doesn't Provide More Money

Forrest Claypool
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool at a Chicago Board of Education meeting in January. The CPS inspector general is now calling for Claypool to be fired. Andrew Gill / WBEZ
Forrest Claypool
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool at a Chicago Board of Education meeting in January. The CPS inspector general is now calling for Claypool to be fired. Andrew Gill / WBEZ

CPS: School Year May End Early If State Doesn't Provide More Money

The cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools may be forced to end school on June 1, which is 13 days before the year is scheduled to wrap up, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said on Monday. 

The school district also said it may have to cancel summer school for elementary school students.

“As a practical matter, CPS has few options left,” attorneys for CPS wrote in a motion filed in Cook County Circuit Court on Monday. 

The motion is part of a civil rights lawsuit against the state. CPS is asking the courts to stop the state from funding schools in a way that CPS says discriminates against minority students. CPS wants to force the state to help CPS make a $721 million pension payment that is due in June. 

At a news conference Monday afternoon Claypool described the June 1 end date as a “worst-case scenario.”

To end the school year early, CPS might need a waiver from the state. State law requires 176 days of attendance. If CPS cancels the last 13 days of class, students would be short 12 days.

It also would be a major financial hit to the paychecks of teachers and other staff.

The Chicago Teachers Union said in a statement Monday that CPS' lawsuit against the state is a "cynical political ploy designed to divert attention from the failed leadership and flawed decision-making of Mayor Emanuel." 

The union said the city could help CPS close its budget gap by reinstating a corporate head tax and diverting more money to schools from special taxing areas known as TIF districts, which are supposed to help spur neighborhood economic development. While the Emanuel administration has previously dipped into those funds to help CPS stay afloat, the mayor has said a permanent solution is needed from the state. 

Already, the district has implemented four furlough days for teachers when classes are not in session to save $35 million. The teachers union has said these four furlough days represent a 2 percent pay cut for teachers. 

An additional 13 unpaid days could mean as much as 6 percent more taken out of the paychecks of teachers and other staff. 

The lawsuit was filed this month when CPS and five parents sued Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state of Illinois, alleging that the state discriminates against Chicago’s mostly black and Latino students in the way it funds school districts

The district is now asking a Cook County judge to fast track this case so that a decision can be issued by mid- to late-April. The district says it needs a prompt decision in case it has to inform teachers and families that the school year will end earlier. There is a hearing in the case on Friday.

Rauner’s handpicked education secretary, Beth Purvis, responded to Monday’s motion by once again imploring CPS to work with state lawmakers to change the overall funding formula. 

“Now is the time for CEO (Forrest) Claypool to engage in a constructive process to pass a balanced budget with changes that would help schools across the state, including those in Chicago,” she said in a statement.

Rauner has bristled at the idea that CPS’ current problems are caused by the way the state funds schools. He has said Chicago schools have been mismanaged for decades. 

This threat to end school early comes after Claypool reversed $18 million in budget cuts to individual schools on Friday.

CPS had hoped to save about $50 million by freezing school-based discretionary funds. But after Latino leaders complained that predominantly Latino schools were hit harder than other schools, Claypool announced on Friday that he was releasing $15 million to schools with high numbers of poor students and $3 million to public charter schools. That pushed up CPS’ remaining mid-year deficit to $129 million.

This is the second year in a row that Claypool finds himself with a budget shortfall. Both this year and last year, the Chicago Board of Education approved a budget that his administration had proposed that was only balanced with state funds that were not guaranteed. 

This year, Rauner vetoed a bill that would have provided $215 million to CPS help make a pension payment. Rauner said that money was contingent on passage of state pension reforms, which haven’t happened.

The heart of CPS’ lawsuit against the state is the requirement that Chicago must pay for its teacher pensions while no other school district in the state is forced to do this. 

Becky Vevea contributed reporting to this story.

Sarah Karp is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @sskedreporter or @wbezeducation.

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