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Tax hike, job cuts offered to fill school budget hole

Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times
by ROSALIND ROSSI Education Reporter

The biggest set of job cuts in at least a decade were packed into a new Chicago public school budget unveiled Tuesday that axes more than 2,000 jobs, raises property taxes 3.4 percent and trims even Mayor Daley's pet projects to plug the worst deficit since Daley's 1995 school takeover.

Hundreds of teachers and teacher aides should receive letters by next week saying their positions have been closed, although officials cautioned that some could be rehired to fill an estimated 1,600 openings due to attrition and new charter school jobs.

"Why are they cutting people just to rehire them?'' complained Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart. "It's like you're shifting chairs on a deck. . . . You are shifting people around the system when we need stability.''

Schools CEO Arne Duncan insisted officials "worked very hard to protect the classroom from cuts.''

"We need a solution to the school funding problem soon because there is absolutely no place left to cut,'' Duncan said. "We are down to the bare bones.''

Civic Federation President Laurence Msall warned that the budget, up for a vote later this month, could set the stage for contentious talks next year, when a four-year teacher contract, with 4 percent annual raises, expires.

The new budget is up 5 percent, even though enrollment is expected to decline by 8,000 kids, Msall said. Salaries and benefits alone rose 14.3 percent, fueled in part by a $55 million jump in teacher pension costs. Next year, the pension tab is expected to swell by another $50 million.

"There is no way they can allow the operational costs to continue to outstrip the available revenue at a time when they are seeing declining enrollment,'' Msall said. "They have to have effective negotiations that reduce their operating costs, including benefits and salaries.''

To fill a $328 million deficit -- a record under Daley -- CPS cut $25 million from central office, grabbed $75 million from its reserve fund and raised property taxes to the maximum for the 10th time in 12 years of Daley budgets.

Even some of Daley's pet projects -- like after-school programs, book clubs and reading specialists -- took trims, although Duncan said struggling schools would continue to get help.

More than 500 teaching jobs were eliminated due to enrollment declines. Another 285 teaching positions took a hit due to the transfer of 5,500 students to charter schools under the Mayor's Renaissance 2010 effort.

Other teacher cuts -- in magnet cluster schools, small schools and even the system's elite college preps -- were due largely to crackdowns in staffing formulas.

The biggest trims came among special education aides. Duncan insisted no special ed student whose individual education plan calls for a full-time aide would lose an aide.

SCHOOL JOB CUTS

School-based: 1,992 of 36,000 teachers and aides, or 5.5 percent, including:
*750 special education aides
*315 teachers due to a decline in enrollment of nearly 6,000 students
*285 teachers due to 5,500 kids transferring to charter schools
*200 special education teachers due to 2,000-student decline in special ed enrollment
*100 reading specialists
*50 magnet school cluster teachers
*40 college prep teachers
*40 small school teachers
*38 early childhood teachers
*10 early childhood aides
*164 teaching positions that were never filled

Administrative Cuts: 172 out of 2,315 positions*, or 7.4 percent, including:
*70 central office and area administrators
*102 consultants*
* estimated

SOURCE: Chicago Board of Education



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