Huberman sounds school budget alarm; confirms 500 more layoffs

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No stranger to doomsday budget predictions, CEO Ron Huberman issued a
big one Thursday, saying that the state’s huge shortfall announced
Wednesday will add to the district’s deficit, bringing it to nearly a
billion dollars next school year.
No stranger to doomsday budget predictions, CEO Ron Huberman issued a big one Thursday, saying that the state’s huge shortfall announced Wednesday will trickle down to the district’s deficit, bringing it to nearly a billion dollars next school year.

To prove that they are “fiscally responsible,” CPS officials said will layoff 500 more central office and citywide staff over the next two weeks and force those remaining to take an additional three weeks unpaid leave, bringing their furlough days to more than a month. District officials refused to say which positions were going to be cut as they haven’t been finalized and the staff not yet informed.

In return, Huberman wants state lawmakers to provide more money, either by prioritizing current funds or passing a tax increase. He also wants legislators to alter the law that specifies what CPS must pay into the teachers’ pension fund. This year’s obligation is $500-plus million. Huberman several changes could reduce that amount by $300 million.  

CPS’ pension obligation is a perennial issue, but in the past the teachers’ union has opposed legislative changes because they worry about keeping the pension solvent. 

Huberman hopes it will be different this year. He called on the union to support the district’s efforts at reducing the pension obligation. He also wants the teachers’ union to give up the 4 percent pay raises they negotiated in the last collective bargaining agreement.

But this will be an incredibly difficult year to get more money or concessions from state lawmakers or Chicago union leaders, all in the midst of running for re-election.

Huberman said he will be heading down to Springfield as early as next week to press his point. But Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Mike Madigan have already said they aren’t going for a tax increase this year.

And late Thursday CTU Union President Marilyn Stewart began pushing back.

“I want to make it clear that we will not agree to any proposal that either destroys our contract or fails to maintain the integrity of our pension system,” she said in a statement.  “Nor will we tolerate the implied threats being made by Mr. Huberman that he may have to cut programs and services for our students or lay off teachers.”

Huberman can force the union back to the bargaining table by declaring a fiscal emergency, but chief labor relations officer Rachel Resnick stressed that district officials would like the union to willingly come to the table.

Huberman emphasized that all the things he outlined Thursday need to happen in order for the district to balance its budget, which is required by state law.

“We are talking and, not or,” he said.

If Huberman doesn’t get everything he wants, he warned he will be forced to take drastic actions. He would not say what big items he would target in a worst-case scenario.

But he displayed a breakdown of how much the district would save by increasing class sizes and how much it would save by doing away with specific programs. Among the areas he highlighted: $49 million for gifted and magnet schools, $11 million for after-school programs and $89 million by closing 100 schools and opening no new charter or turnaround schools.

“I am not saying we will cut these specific programs,” Huberman said. “But all that is left is class sizes and programs. This is incredibly serious.”

Huberman has been dealing with severe budget issues since he was appointed to the helm last January. Coming into the 2009-2010 school year, he promised to trim the budget by $160 million.

This summer, he laid off 536 central office and citywide employees. By mid-year, over the last couple of weeks, he said he carried out another $64 million. How he did this is unclear. (CPS officials promised to provide details by the end of the business day Thursday, but did not.)

Now, Huberman says he will layoff another 500 people at a savings of about $25 million. District officials said this move showed that central administration was willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

“We are not just cutting the fat,” said Alicia Winckler, chief of human capital. “We don’t have 500 extra people. These are not people in schools, but people in the schools will be impacted.”