The city of Chicago is cutting its public school budget by $200 million after making a major payment into its teachers’ pension system.
The move comes just a couple of years after the city closed almost 50 elementary schools, in what was at the time a historic number of public school closures.
Still, the school district’s budget problems persist.
“Chicago Public Schools faces a significant budget crisis,” says Sarah Wetmore of the Chicago-based Civic Federation, a government watchdog group. Wetmore says the city’s schools have had deficits that won’t go away.
“The structural deficit has been in existence for some time, and it’s been papered over by … accounting gimmicks to balance the budget,” she says.
The Chicago Public Schools’ cash crunch got worse last week when the city had to make a pension payment of more than $600 million. The budget cuts followed a day after, including layoffs in mostly administrative positions.
“This could be the tip of the iceberg,” says Jackson Potter of the Chicago Teachers Union. “The city hasn’t laid down its hand to exactly spell out: is this the first of a wave of cuts?”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is asking state lawmakers to change the pension system to relieve some of the city’s burden. Emanuel is also floating the idea of a property tax hike to increase school funding.
The fate of those initiatives may decide whether there are further school budget cuts in the fall.