Pink slips for Central Office, reorganization on way

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CPS CEO Forrest Claypool announced long-anticipated layoffs of Central Office staff on Friday. More than 200 staffers were laid off and 180 vacancies were eliminated.

Photo by Max Herman

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool announced long-anticipated layoffs of Central Office staff on Friday. More than 200 staffers were laid off and 180 vacancies were eliminated.

Chicago Public Schools announced 227 Central Office layoffs today, including dozens of special education and early education employees.

In addition, 180 vacancies in Central Office were also eliminated. While classroom teachers are not included in this round of cuts, some advocates and educators worry about the impact inside of schools as staff and principals will be forced to take on additional responsibilities.

Sources tell Catalyst that more changes are still to come. Department and network chiefs have been told to expect details on a reorganization of the school district in the coming days, although the actual restructuring may not take place until this summer.

The job cuts and reorganization have been underway for months, as the district grapples with a $480 million mid-year budget gap.

CPS records show that in October, CEO Forrest Claypool brought in outsiders — including some who are politically connected — to help with the restructuring.

These include Carol Rubin, who once worked with Claypool at the Chicago Transit Authority. She is being paid $65,000 to “review existing organizational charts to determine opportunities [to] restructure and streamline non-core education departments.” Paul Toback, a former executive at Bally Total Fitness and one-time administrator under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, is being paid $75,000 to “recommend and provide additional innovative ways to deliver services.”

Another contract for $72,500 went to a company that’s part of a private equity firm run by Stuart Taylor II to assess the district’s diverse learners program. Messages left for Rubin, Toback and Taylor on Friday afternoon were not immediately returned.

The consultants appear to be part of a larger effort to “assist management in executing internal audit, financial, administrative, operational, and educational priorities,” according to an October briefing to the Board of Education.

The same month, the School Board agreed to spend an estimated $1 million for organization management consulting.

CPS officials who were asked for input in the reorganization process described the review as “comprehensive” and “thoughtful,” compared to past administrative layoffs and reorganizations.

A district spokeswoman did not immediately confirm that a reorganization is on its way or discuss the consultants. But the statement from CPS indicates that the department that oversees special education, the Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services, will be overhauled to place a greater “focus on schools.”

At the moment it does not appear that CPS will, as some have speculated, eliminate its network system — although it may be restructured over the summer. Back in October, when CPS announced it would close a few dozen vacancies in Central Office, the district said it planned to shift responsibilities that had previously been handled downtown to network staff and schools.

Not ‘useless bureaucrats’

The Central Office layoffs were not unexpected. Claypool said in December that about one-third of Central Office positions would get cut before the start of the second semester. In total, CPS says it has eliminated just under a quarter of the district’s Central Office and citywide administrative positions since last summer.

In the statement, Claypool acknowledged that the cuts were “painful” but stressed that they were kept away from the classrooms. Jobs were targeted that “don’t support the immediate day-to-day operations of schools,” he said.

But advocates who work with children with special needs assured that the cuts didn’t impact “faceless, useless bureaucrats.” Several dozen employees — known as specialized services administrators, or SSAs — who work inside network offices and help schools fulfill students’ individualized educational programs (IEPs) lost their jobs today, sources said.

Rod Estvan, of Access Living, says that these employees are “critical” to helping schools deliver services to students with special needs. They’re brought in when families ask for more resources for their children or if they want to transfer to another school, he said.

“They have nothing in place right now to replace the functioning role of those folks,” Estvan says. SSAs “have more schools than they can effectively handle now, except as operating as firemen and women … A cut here is going to slow this process down.”

One principal who asked not to be identified says the network SSA assigned to her school “was coming into classrooms to observe our special education teachers, reviewing IEPs to make sure they were in order.”

Apart from the dozens of special education cuts, a spreadsheet released late Friday* also shows substantial layoffs in Information and Technology, Early Childhood Development and the Law Office.

Principals say they rely on help from IT specialists downtown for managing and accessing school-level data, and are worried about the impact of those layoffs on their schools.

Also laid off were a number of “instructional effectiveness specialists” assigned to help principals with the district’s teacher evaluation system.

Two principals told Catalyst that these specialists served as an extra layer of bureaucracy and did not help ease the burdensome compliance paperwork that’s required as part of the evaluation system.

In addition, some prominent unfilled positions are being eliminated, including that of former chief financial officer Ginger Ostro and chief of Accountability John Barker, both of whom left the district late last year.

Hard to account for savings

Claypool said the district “had no choice” but to go through with the cuts because of “limited resources and a budget crisis not just this year but into the foreseeable future.”

The crisis has been a long time in the making. After years of taking on unsustainable debt, and even adjusting the fiscal year to capture future tax revenues, last fall the Board of Education approved an operating budget that depended on a half-billion dollars in non-existent aid from Springfield.

At the time Claypool was optimistic that CPS would get that help in the form of pension relief. But state lawmakers have been unable to approve their own budget, let alone agree on whether to help Chicago’s struggling school district.

Meanwhile the district is pushing hard for a contract with the Chicago Teachers Union before the end of the month. Insiders say talks have intensified in recent days and the union’s so-called “big bargaining team” was brought into negotiations on Friday.

Both sides have agreed to move on to the fact-finding process — a legal step that’s required before teachers can go on strike — by Feb. 1 if no deal is reached.

In recent months Claypool has also called on lawmakers to pay into the district’s pension system for teachers as it does in other school districts — but to no avail.

“We are also pressing Springfield to wake up to the injustice that Chicago’s students face a separate but unequal education funding system,” Claypool reiterated in a statement today.

“Chicago students get only 15 percent of the state’s funding despite making up 20 percent of the state’s enrollment — a difference of nearly $500 million. This inequity must end.”

Now Republican lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner are proposing a state takeover of the school district and the option to declare bankruptcy. Claypool and Mayor Rahm Emanuel oppose a takeover.

Today’s layoffs come on the heels of other cutbacks downtown. Earlier this year, CPS announced that it would phase out its 7-percent “pension pickup” for Central Office employees. Claypool also tightened controls on outside food purchases by Central Office — after the Sun-Times published an account of how staff there had spent $1.5 million in a year on pizza and sandwiches.

CPS officials claim today’s job cuts — in combination with another 61 positions eliminated since August — amount to $45 million in annual savings.

But it can often be difficult to verify what CPS says it cuts in Central Office. Over time the district has changed the names of its departments and how it lists them in its budget, as the Better Government Association recently reported.

In the past, these kinds of reorganizations haven’t always resulted in long-term savings. For example, under former CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, the district promised to find $107 million in savings by reorganizing Central Office and the networks — which were then called “area offices.” But a 2012 Catalyst analysis showed that after the reorganization, a much smaller number of cuts were made. In fact, the district actually upped its spending on Central Office staff.

*This report was updated at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 22, 2015, to include new information from the district.

  • Concerned Parent

    All these $$ consultant and $$vendors! -smacks of BBB hiring friends who are paid well. With all these consultants, why keep Denise Little? She got a raise.

  • Concerned Parent

    Teachers expressed shock when they heard our special education liaison was laid off. They stated that this hard-working and talented person should have been kept and the that Claypool should have let the network chief go instead.

  • Mo Buti

    Ma9

  • Mo Buti

    You might want to interview other advocates rather then always the same one. Ron is the only one ever interviewed and this information is actually inaccurate. Although he is an amazing advocate. I am also an advocate who works with many CPS families. The district hasn’t had SSA positions in years. The position he is referring to is a DLSL. Additionally the NED position was also cut. The DLSL does do more then he says, honestly the description he gives are things schools, sped teachers, case managers, etc should be doing on a day to day basis. This is no reason to have $95,000 a year employees. They were to be the checks and balances for staff to teacher ratios, 1 on 1 staff, lre, 100% removal, working with challenging cases, and more. Yes they are important. Thete were way too many layers in sped, unfortunately it took them to let everyone go to then determine what the necessary layers are and put those back in place. The DLSL is. But the district wasted so much of their time this year approving staff to teacher ratio so they can cut teachers and then come back and say oopsy sorry we were using wrong ratio. Their time was wasted when they actually could have been supporting instruction.

  • Concerned Parent

    Ms. Buti, I agree with you on ODLSS ratios proved a fiasco. Do you think Ms. Winston did what she was told to do? It helps CPS to be able to use the excuse: “That was the past administration.”

    I find Mr. Estvan’s words accurate. So what if they are not called SSAs. You should know that CPS changes position names to make a smoke-mirror budget. Even in these layoffs; it’s shown that CPS closes positions only to open with a different name. Example: DSLS positions closed yes, 19 more to open under a new title. (Read the attachment.)

    Do you think that CPS will take the money ‘saved’ by closing any positions that they really close, and give those funds to the neighborhood schools to support dl students?

    You seem removed from the reality. School based budgeting, especially for schools with high dl populations, made it more problematic to provide services to dls. Add that CPS budget woes (mismanagement) keep students with issue that should not place them in neighborhood schools, in the neighborhood school, as needed out of school placement or into schools with dls programs are slowed, delayed or postponed.

    CPS school Level designation status is based on how dls score on NWEA. Schools get only 1 counselor. That counselor is the case-manager or schools must use the resource teacher instead. With15% of the school enrollment dls, how can anyone keep-up? More proof: CPS is woefully short of special ed teachers and counsleors, for good reason.

    Mr. Estvan speaks because of what he knows first-hand. He also has sources that speak to him – sources who are afraid and/or have been told NOT to speak about dl services to outsiders or the media.

    If CPS special ed services to dls were going so well, they would not need advocates like you, now would they?

    • Mo Buti

      His description of the current role of the DLSL was inaccurate.

      • Concerned Parent

        Feel for those who you ‘advocate’ for-your response is confused. btw-do you charge for your services?

        • Mo Buti

          I am sorry you are having a difficult time understanding my description of how a parent can go about “wanting another school” in Chicago Public Schools. I would be more then happy to elaborate. However, I do not think it was necessary to be mean to me in the process. I have not said anything negative about anyone involved. I am an excellent advocate. And do not appreciate you bashing my livelihood for trying to provide some accurate information to those interested. None of my words were to disregard or put down anyone in the process and I wish you would not either. Thank you. I am sure it is very challenging being a parent of a child in Chicago Public Schools always trying to figure out who is working where, what the new “rules” are and where to get help. I hope you are able to get some clarity or support if needed.

  • Concerned Parent

    Can citizens of Chicago sue BBB and Supes to get the $20,000,000 back?

  • CBW

    The typical life-cycle of a CPS CEO: hire friends from previous job, announce layoffs, save nothing. The *exact same plan* was announced by Jean-Claude Brizard in September of 2011 (200 pos./$16M promised) and Ron Huberman in June of 2009 (1,000 pos./$100M promised). So Byrd-Bennett and now Claypool make three and four times this has happened in the last ten years without an appreciable decline in central office spending.

    So… how many times are people going to fall for this?

  • Fed up with CPS

    As usual it is dirty politics. Maybe different players but the same old games. The clinician managers were let go. No one to monitor compliance.No one to oversee the nursing department,which has been taken over by a company that is new to nursing but, surprise, surprise a friend of Rahm .Now they can operate in the same unsafe way with no clinical supervisor watching over.This will be very scary for the medical needs of the children of the district. In June,Dr. Foley made the announcement to the her department,ANYONE not making this transition work will lose their jobs! she was right.Any one not agreeing with decisions made by non-clinical personnel have lost their job.Friends that have taken over CPS. So when Rahm is no longer mayor-where does that leave the students?

  • Show me something new

    Mo Buti
    Wow- surprised to see your view here considering your work when you were at CPS!

    • Mo Buti

      My post was accurate information. Please read it. I am agreeing that there are and were way too many layers in central office. But I also agree that there are many central office positions that are necessary. I have always been and will continue to be a supporter of CPS students, educators and staff. I do what I can to support those in CPS, educate those who are misinformed, and continue to advocate for all students. There should be nothing surprising about my post. My 15 years in CPS was awesome. There was always too many layers ….or even 12 months positions that should have only been 9 months. I am sorry everyone had to loose their job for CPS to figure out what is only the necessary needs and of those who are the best people to do it. That will happen and those staff will come back and do the awesome work that they do.

    • Mo Buti

      You might want to interview other advocates rather then always the same one. Ron is the only one ever interviewed and this information is actually inaccurate. Although he is an amazing advocate. I am also an advocate who works with many CPS families. The district hasn’t had an SSA positions in over 3 years. The position he is referring to is a DLSL. Additionally the NED position was also cut. The DLSL does do more then he says, honestly the description he gives are things schools, sped teachers, case managers, etc should be doing on a day to day basis. This is no reason to have $95,000 a year employees. They were to be the checks and balances for staff to teacher ratios, 1 on 1 staff, lre, 100% removal, working with challenging cases, and more. Yes they are important. There were way too many layers in sped, unfortunately it took them to let everyone go to then determine what the necessary layers are and put those back in place. The DLSL is necessary though they need to revisit the role. The role needs to be less compliance and more specific support in schools. But the district wasted so much of their time this year approving staff to teacher ratio so they can cut teachers and then come back and say oopsy sorry we were using wrong ratio. Their time was wasted when they actually could have been supporting instruction. I will continue to support and advocate for CPS staff, parents, and students.

      Working in CPS for 15 years, I am very aware of the unnecessary layers and this needed to be addressed. I am not happy about the way they are doing it ofcourse, however this will also allow for the best of the best to be brought back and do the amazing job that they are capable of doing.