All Chicago Public Schools employees must take four days without pay this school year to help fill a more than $200 million budget gap, CPS officials announced Friday afternoon.
The move, which could save CPS about $35 million, comes after Gov. Bruce Rauner in December vetoed $215 million earmarked for district teacher pensions, blowing a hole in the budget midyear. Rauner said he vetoed the payment because it was not tied to broader pension reforms, as he insists Democrats had promised.
Democratic lawmakers dispute there was ever a link, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool on Friday sought to cast the blame for the four furlough days without pay on the governor’s shoulders.
In a letter to teachers, Claypool said CPS faces a challenge “caused by a governor who broke a promise to treat Chicago’s children fairly by cutting $215 million from schools with the stroke of a pen.”
Claypool pledged to “fight tooth and nail to protect our classrooms” from cuts, though he acknowledged the furloughs may be just the first cost-saving step the district takes this year. The pension payment is due at the end of the school year.
Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said the governor did not create the long-running budget problems at CPS.
“Continuing to blame the Governor, who has been in office two years, for decades of fiscal mismanagement and bad decision-making is getting old,” she said in a statement. “CPS willingly chose to budget for money they had not received and knew was contingent upon real pension reform. The Administration is open to considering this legislation again if the General Assembly passes statewide pension reform.”
The furloughs cover teacher professional development days when students are not in school. They are Feb. 3, April 7, June 21 and 22.
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey says the school district can’t unilaterally take away this important time.
“It’s not as if the board is expecting us to not do that work,” Sharkey said. “They are just saying we are laying you off on the days that we had previously given you to do that work. It is a really demoralizing element.”
Sharkey said the union’s first step will be to ask the district to negotiate over the days. If that doesn’t work, the union could take other actions, including filling a grievance.