Teachers Strike Possible After Claypool Announces 5,000 Potential Layoffs

The layoffs would take effect by Thanksgiving if the state does not offer any financial help to CPS, according to Forrest Claypool

Teachers in Chicago Public Schools could go on strike if an announcement by the head of the district to potentially cut 5,000 jobs by Thanksgiving becomes reality.

Forrest Claypool, head of CPS, announced the possible layoffs last week amid the state's ongoing budget stalemate. If the district does not receive any financial help from the state, up to 5,000 teachers could be cut by Thanksgiving, Claypool warned.

Over the summer, CPS slashed 1,400 jobs, including nearly 500 teaching positions, to close a $200 million hole.

In response to Claypool's statement, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said a strike is "definitely possible." Sharkey said the union will fight the cuts, but he did not comment on the timeline of the strike.

"We have good voices and we have good feet and we will use them both to make sure the public interest in the public schools are safeguarded in this time of financial crisis," Sharkey said.

If 5,000 teachers were cut, class sizes would be larger, grade levels would be combined, after school programs would be shuttered and hundreds of students would have to switch teachers mid-year, Sharkey said.

"Virtually every student will experience chaos as every school in the city will need to be reprogrammed in the middle of the school year," Sharkey said.

A helping hand from the state could solve the problem, according to Claypool, but Sharkey says that's a "hollow claim" by CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"Chicago Public Schools officials have been consistently clear that without an agreement with Springfield that addresses our fiscal challenges, a mix of unsustainable borrowing and further cuts would be needed before the start of the spring semester." said Bill McCaffrey, a spokesperson for CPS. "If a comprehensive solution with our partners in Springfield is not reached, the process to address the budget gap would have to begin in November."

A ready answer appears elusive. Chicago Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan said last week he opposes a Senate-endorsed measure Claypool believes would see the schools out of their fiscal mess.

School officials approved a budget this summer that included $480 million in state assistance. It has not materialized.

Democrats who control the General Assembly and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner have been unable to agree on a state budget, although Rauner signed legislation to keep public schools operating.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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