Chicago principals will get school budgets that could force layoffs

Print More

Friday is “D Day” for principals, when they will finally get preliminary
school-level budgets. Arriving a mere week-and-a-half before school
ends for the summer, principals will have to make some quick assessments
about what is expected to be a bare-bones budget that might force them
to lay off staff.
Friday is “D Day” for principals, when they will finally get preliminary school-level budgets. Arriving a mere week-and-a-half before school ends for the summer, principals will have to make some quick assessments about what is expected to be a bare-bones budget that might force them to lay off staff.

CPS officials estimate the district’s budget deficit to be $720 million. That figure would grow to nearly $800 million if the state education budget passed by the Illinois House and Senate, which cuts $171 million from education funding statewide, is signed by Gov. Pat Quinn. Quinn has said he plans to keep working on the budget.

To pre-empt the uproar that could ensue on Friday and perhaps to better position themselves to ask teachers to make sacrifices, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and new CEO Jean-Claude Brizard held a press conference to announce that they plan to slash $75 million from central office.

“The bureaucracy will be the first line item in the cuts,” Emanuel said. Emanuel and Brizard said they prioritized keeping the cuts away from the classroom and students.

In taking aim first at central office and other areas seen as not affecting students, Emanuel and Brizard are following a well-worn path. In fact, this year’s list of cuts is eerily similar to last year’s. CEO Ron Huberman initially projected a deficit of nearly $1 billion last year and threatened to raise classroom sizes to 37. But, as usually the case in the past, the latest deficit projections did not wind up being that large.

The biggest savings announced Thursday was $44 million from scaling back the number of renovation projects for next year. This allows CPS to take out fewer bonds, thereby spending less money on interest payments. Chief Operating Officer Tim Cawley said that “critical” projects will happen as planned, but those deemed less important will be put off. Cawley, however, didn’t define critical or say whether projects such as renovating old CPS buildings to make way for charter schools are among those that fit the criteria. Last year, Huberman also delayed capital projects.

Brizard said he will save about $16 million by not upgrading equipment at central office and by closing 60 central office positions, 40 of which are currently vacant.  This is on top of nearly 380 position cuts in central office made by Huberman last year.

Brizard also will spend $ 5 million less on transportation by cutting the number of buses.  the number of buses running their routes. CPS officials said that students might have to spend a little longer on the bus, but that this year they will re-negotiate the busing contract and hope to get a better deal to lessen the impact on students. Last year, Huberman cut $10 million from the transportation budget.

The rest of the savings will come from not upgrading equipment and software for non-teaching staff; spending less on custodial serves and waste management; and turning off lights when buildings aren’t in use.

Cawley said he was surprised to find that CPS was paying to have entire buildings cleaned, even when so many are underutilized.  As of yet, district officials did not provide information on how many schools were underutilized.

Brizard would not commit to forcing administrators to take furlough days. Last year, CPS saved $6 million by having administrators take as many as 21 unpaid furlough and vacation days. 

Brizard is working on a short-term contract while the final details of his salary and benefits are being worked out. He noted that for three years, administrators have not received raises–in addition to taking the furlough days.

“We have asked them to sacrifice a lot,” he said.