A new report shows Chicago Public Schools spends millions every year on employees' unused vacation and sick days, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants it to stop.
Data obtained by the Better Government Association shows CPS spent $227 million over the last five years in sick-day payouts and nearly $265 million for unused sick and vacation days.
"These are people that are walking out the door, and a lot of times what they were paid was more than what their annual salary was," said BGA investigator Patrick Rehkamp.
A spokeswoman from the mayor's office told the BGA the mayor finds the practice unacceptable, and in a statement Emanuel said he ordered all Chicago sister agencies to immediately stop payments to non-union employees for unused sick days.
"As mayor, my greatest responsibility is to ensure that Chicago government is transparent, accountable, and responsive to city taxpayers," Emanuel said. "That is why I have zero tolerance for waste or benefit abuses of any kind."
In response, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the district has halted sick day payments, per the mayor's directive, and is reviewing its sick-day policy.
The BGA found former chief human resources officer Ascencion Juarez received $250,787 in sick pay alone when he retired after more than 35 years. Former CPS chief education officer Barbara Eason-Watkins collected $239,849 in sick pay when she retired in 2010 after 38 years, according to the BGA's report.
"This is money just given to you as you walk out," said Rehkamp of the BGA, "part of the separation agreement.”
The association also found former CEO Arne Duncan received more than $50,000 in unused vacation time when he left in January of 2009. Duncan said he believes CPS should re-evaluate this policy.
CPS employees are eligible for payouts after working at least 20 years or when they reach the age of 65. Right now employees of CPS can accrue up to 325 sick and vacation days.
The Chicago Teachers Union on Friday responded to the report, arguing that if teachers aren't able to bank sick days, they'd be unable to take paid time off for life events like a surgery or maternity leave.
"It's not fair to characterize this benefit as an abuse in a situation where it's been negotiated over time. People have to have been working for 20 years at least in order to earn it," said spokesman Jesse Sharkey.
Emanuel said Thursday he ordered CPS, the City Colleges of Chicago, Chicago Park District, Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Public Housing to review their sick-day policies and accrual procedures, compensation, carryover provisions and annual costs. They must submit plans to permanently terminate all payouts for unused sick time by Feb. 17.
Carroll said CPS expects to present recommendations by the deadline.
“Mayor Emanuel made it clear that he finds the current policy unacceptable and CPS is facing difficult fiscal times," Carroll said. "It is incumbent upon us to be fiscally conservative with every taxpayer dollar we spend to ensure that every available dollar is being invested in our students."