The Chicago Public Schools system is again in the spotlight after announcing late Thursday that it will lay off more than 2,100 employees — nearly half of them teachers. The laid-off educators account for 4 percent of the system's faculty, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.
It's the second large layoff announcement in recent weeks. Last month, the system said 850 jobs will be cut as it closes nearly 50 schools it believes aren't needed anymore. At the time of that announcement, federal hearings were underway in lawsuits that seek to block the closings.
Spring in Chicago was marked by weeks of rallies and protests against the proposed closings, which were originally aimed at more than 50 schools. The actions included a day in which CPS high school juniors boycotted standardized tests in favor of rallying outside of CPS headquarters.
Back in September, The Chicago Teachers Union went on strike for more than a week over issues related to teacher evaluations (which were to take into account student test scores) being tied to job security.
It's been a year of discontent in Chicago, but CPS spokeswoman Becky Caroll said that to find the source of this last round of layoffs, fingers should point not at the district, but at the state of Illinois. The district faces a $1 billion budget deficit, much of which can be traced to ballooning pension obligations.
As the Associated Press and member station WBEZ report:
"Chicago schools were seeking a waiver on pension payments for the 2014 budgetary year, which began July 1. During the spring legislative session, the General Assembly failed to pass legislation permitting the district to make a reduced pension contribution over the next two years, obligating the district to increase the contribution by $400 million.
"District officials said even if pension reform is enacted by the legislature, they would not commit to reversing the layoffs."
The new layoffs are twice as large as Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis was expecting. "Once again, CPS has lied to parents, employees and the public about keeping the new school-based budget cuts away from the classroom," Lewis said in a statement.
Some teachers who lose their jobs could return to the system, though. After other layoffs in recent years, the school system notes, it was able to rehire some teachers when they applied for positions at other schools.