Take 5: School budgets, UNO in trouble again, fair-share union fees

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This week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case brought by 10 California public school teachers over union fees.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case brought by 10 California public school teachers over union fees.

Principals got official word this week that on Monday they’ll receive budgets for just July and August. The district’s finance head says CPS is not yet able to calculate the dollar amount schools will receive for each student, so schools can’t use the stopgap budgets to predict what they’ll ultimately receive.

The administration says it’s waiting for a state budget to be approved before releasing full school budgets later this summer. Last year, schools received budgets in April.

The new money allows summer school programs to run and provides schools with minimal staffing. But CPS told principals not to create new positions or budget lines. As West Lawn’s Peck Elementary School Principal Okab Hassan put it: “It’s better than nothing.” Many building leaders say they don’t plan to fill vacancies or order needed supplies until they have complete budgets. Some say that in anticipation of the late budgets, they purchased supplies with money from last school year.

“I’m glad they’re doing this rather than there being no money, but it still means you can’t prioritize or plan,” says Laura LeMone, the principal at Von Steuben Metropolitan Science High School in Albany Park. LeMone keeps a list pinned to her wall of items she wants to purchase when the full budget drops — student books and new bleachers are at the top.

At Shields Middle School in Brighton Park, Principal Peter Auffant says he’s slowed summer work he’d typically be able to pay for, such as curriculum development, because of budget uncertainties. He’s also holding off on buying needed agenda books for every student. Principal Chad Adams at Sullivan High School in Rogers Park says he won’t fill two or three openings despite having good candidates until he can promise a position. “I don’t want to hire and fire,” he says.

2. UNO network’s charter in jeopardy … The Sun-Times reports that the UNO Charter School Network is at risk of losing standing to run its 16 schools in Chicago because, according to a top CPS official, the network had failed to provide adequate services to English-language learners.

An audit ordered by CPS Interim CEO Jesse Ruiz found that the network’s schools had only 11 teachers qualified to provide services for English-language learners —  instead of the nearly 100 CPS said were needed. A signature of the network has been its use of the immersion approach to language acquisition.

However, CPS now says that that cannot be the only model offered.

In a letter, Jack Elsey, who oversees charters for CPS, told Richard Rodriguez, the charter network’s leader, that the network is “subject to revocation based on the charter school materially violating state laws and rules that pertain to the instruction of ELLs” — English learners.

Elsey said the UNO network had to present a written improvement plan by July 15, and Rodriguez said that “any non-compliance” would be fixed by a new management team that is coming on board.

The warning comes amid continuing controversy over who should manage the network following a scandal that forced out UNO President Juan Rangel. The Sun-Times notes that CPS rarely revokes charters and may not act on its threat.

3. Supreme Court takes on suit against union … This week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether public-sector unions may require workers who are not members to help pay for bargaining, grievance processing and other activities. As the New York Times sees it, “A ruling against them could deal a severe blow to organized labor.”

These so-called fair-share union fees have become a big issue in Illinois as Gov. Bruce Rauner has attacked them as part of his campaign against public-sector unions. He calls the fee requirement a violation of workers’ right to free speech and has filed a lawsuit against it.

The case before the Supreme Court was brought by 10 California public school teachers — and a Christian educators group to which they belong — against the state affiliate of the National Education Association and several of its local affiliates. The teachers refused to join the unions and object on First Amendment grounds to paying service fees.

The plaintiffs say some collective bargaining with a government employer amounts to lobbying and that forcing them to pay for those activities violates their First Amendment rights, the Times reports. In a statement, the NEA president said the high court is revisiting “decisions that have stood for more than 35 years — and that have allowed people to work together for better public services and vibrant communities.”

4. Pension fix from Springfield? … Legislation is pending in the Illinois Senate that could provide some pension relief to CPS. The amendment, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton, would require the state to pay a larger share of Chicago teachers’ pensions and would lower the district’s contributions over time, Reuters reports. Under the bill, the state would pick up the district’s $200 million annual teacher pension “normal cost” for two years — the amount that accrues each year and doesn’t include owed pension debt. In exchange, WTTW reports, there would be a statewide property tax freeze, the state’s education funding formula would be revised and CPS would eventually see block grants end.

The proposal coincides in part with a “grand bargain” laid out this week by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to solve the CPS financial crisis, which included $200 million in cuts to CPS, Chicago teachers picking up a larger share of their pension contributions and a reinstated tax levy to put toward Chicago teacher pensions. WBEZ reports that Cullerton is working to get bipartisan support for his measure. Already, the Chicago Teachers Union has said it doesn’t support the legislation because it doesn’t provide a “real” new source of revenue for CPS.

5. Summer school decline …  Following in Chicago’s footsteps, New York City is seeing a major drop in the number of students required to repeat a grade or go to summer school as a result of a reduction in the weight that test scores are given in these decisions. The proportion of students held back declined by half, Chalkbeat New York reports.

In an attempt to end so-called social promotion, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had his school officials set minimum test scores for students to win promotion and avoid summer school. Eventually, parents concerned about testing anxiety got state legislators and city officials to give principals more discretion to choose which students should attend summer school and decide whether they are ready to move on to the next grade, Chalkbeat reports.

Chicago tied promotion and summer school to test scores in 1997, but slowly added other measures amid a string of studies confirming that retained students had not benefited academically and were more likely to drop out than comparable peers elsewhere who had not been retained. By 2011, the number of students retained in elementary schools had dropped to 4,776 — just over half the 1997 level.

Photo: Scales of justice/Shutterstock.com

  • Concerned Parent

    Rahm is golden. Look at these salaries of the Ohio mafia. When will harm be held responsible for this – he allowed this.