CPS Pension payments lead to cuts, protests

Protesters for the CTU | Photo courtesy of Karen Zaccor
Protesters for the CTU | Photo courtesy of Karen Zaccor

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n a startling announcement last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced $200 million in cuts to CPS and the elimination of 1,400 CPS jobs. The mayor also said he was forced to borrow money to pay a $634 million pension requirement, prompting protests from the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU).

In addition to the loss of jobs, the mayor is also proposing an increase in property taxes of $175 million in an effort to help pay down the pensions, provided that lawmakers in Springfield, and Chicago’s teachers reach compromise to end the district’s dire financial problems. But with Springfield unable to approve a final budget, many feel the stalemate only harms students and teachers.

“No matter what happens, we will teach the youth,” stated Xian Franzinger Barrett, a seventh and eighth grade teacher at Brighton Park Elementary who attended the protests last Thursday at City Hall. “But we have big dreams at my school. It is hard to make these dreams a reality when CPS cut our librarian and won’t release the budget, so we don’t even know who will be here next year.”

Springfield’s inability to reach a budget consensus may force more cuts, Emanual cautioned, deflecting much of the blame towards state legislators and years of mismanagement of city and state funds that failed to address growing pension problems.

“CPS will continue to cut costs, save money and find millions of dollars in further efficiencies,” the mayor stated in conference announcing the cuts. “We must continue to direct money away from bureaucracy and into classrooms. Chicago’s parents and taxpayers demand nothing less.”

Emanuel offered two plans for resolving the school pension problems. “Option A,” as he called it, would create a uniform pension system for teachers and taxpayers that treat both as equals, as combining both funds would create a higher funding ratio than Chicago’s surrounding suburbs. “Option B” would involve a mixture of city, state and CPS employees, as well as teachers, contributing to pension costs and education expenditures, including the state of Illinois picking up normal CPS pension costs, restoring the CPS pension levy to pre-1995 rates, and pension contributions by other school districts across the state.

“Putting 1,400 people out of work is no way to balance a budget and resource our schools,” responded CTU President Karen Lewis in response to the job cuts. “This is going to hurt our students and the most vulnerable children in our district. These cuts are a result of a history of poor fiscal management by the Board of Education. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handpicked board has led this district over a financial cliff,” said Lewis.

Jordan Smith was soliciting donations for a charity organization across from City Hall and observed Thursday’s protests. “I have friends who are teachers; we need to support them just like anybody else,” commented Smith. “I’ve had some teachers before that really helped me out; I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for teachers. I don’t think it’s right for anyone to play games like this. These are kids. They didn’t do anything wrong, so why hurt them?”

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