CPS Bond Rating Downgraded; Union Calls Reserve Fund Raid A ‘Stunt’
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Updated 07/11/12 – 10:19 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — On the same day Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the Chicago Public Schools’ bond rating, the Chicago Teachers Union slammed the district’s plan to raid its reserve funds to balance the budget as a stunt designed to turn the public against teachers.
Before a public hearing on the district’s budget plan for next school year, union officials called the proposal to drain the district’s entire $432 million in reserve funds to help plug a $665 million budget hole a public relations stunt aimed at making the union look bad.
Erica Clark, of the group Parents for Teachers, said the board instead should tap tax increment financing funds and demand more money from Springfield, in a more timely fashion.
“The schools continue to be starved of basic resources – counselors, social workers, nurses, math specialists, art and music teachers – all the things that parents want for their kids, and that we understand our kids need,” Clark said.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports
Parents for Teachers is one of a number of groups forming a “solidarity campaign” with the teachers.
Little Village Lawndale High School history teacher David Hernandez said he’s unhappy with the proposed CPS budget.
“Educators are being asked to work 20 percent more, and this budget projects to pay us an insulting 2 percent (raise),” he said. “Not only that, there’s no provision for our members to be compensated for their experience, and for their continued education degrees, which is not only required by the state of Illinois, but also which directly benefit our students. It’s an insult to educators.”
He also said he wants the school district to spend more money for air conditioning for school buildings, saying learning is difficult at best when classrooms are 90 degrees.
University of Illinois labor and employment relations professor Steven Ashby, a member of the solidarity steering committee, said he believes that the board is trying to goad teachers into striking.
During the hearing, School Board Chief Operating Officer Tim Cawley denied that allegation.
Clark and others said TIF money should be spent on enhancements to existing curricula – including music, art and physical education classes – and to provide for school nurses, or to stock libraries.
A school board spokesperson said many principals have indicated that they will use the discretionary money being given to each school to provide those kinds of resources.
Cawley said the board’s position is that it would be “unfair” to leave money in the reserve account and make deeper cuts, even though it could mean that the board will face a staggering deficit in excess of $1 billion in another year.
The decision to completely drain the $432 million estimated to be in reserve accounts has prompted Moody’s Investor’s Service to downgrade the board’s bond rating, with a warning that it could be downgraded again.
WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports Moody’s Investors Service downgraded CPS’s debt from A1 to Aa3 on Wednesday, after CPS officials announced the plan to drain its entire reserve fund to balance next year’s budget. Moody’s also warned another downgrade could come soon.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports
When he was asked if it was responsible to wipe out the schools’ rainy day fund, Mayor Rahm Emanuel bristled at reporters Wednesday morning.
“Maybe you think it’s responsible to be known as having the shortest school day and shortest school year in the country. I don’t think you do, but maybe you do. Maybe you think it’s responsible to cut kids from early childhood education. I don’t believe you think that,” the mayor said.
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the decision underscores the school district’s grave financial situation, despite cutting more than half a billion dollars from the schools’ operating budget.