Veto could mean school layoffs


Governor Bruce Rainer’s veto of a bill that would have filled a $215 million gap in the budget of the Chicago Public Schools has raised concerns about mid-year teacher layoffs, leading to larger class sizes.

State Representative Robert Martwick (D-19) said that Chicago schools in his legislative district can have 34 to 40 students per class, significantly higher than their suburban counterparts.

"You go over to Harwood Heights, Union Ridge (School), and they’re suffering with 22 kids per class," Martwick said at the Dec. 2 meeting of the Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce.

The funds were intended to ease the school system’s pension burden, but critics warned that the Chicago Board of Education was basing its school year budget on state funds that were not guaranteed.

Rauner said that he vetoed Senate Bill 2822 because it was tied to achieving broader pension reform and that Democratic leaders failed to negotiate in good faith on a plan.

"Democrats proposed a $700 million state bailout of CPS," Rauner said in his veto message. "We eventually agreed to provide CPS with $215 million — the estimated amount of its Fiscal year 2017 employer normal pension cost — but only if we came together to pass comprehensive pension reform. Without reforms to solve our structural problems, taxpayer money would continue to be wasted on bailout after bailout."

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-6) has said that the bill was not tied to approval of pension reform. The Senate voted to override Rauner’s veto, but the Illinois House of Representatives adjourned without voting on the issue, and it is not scheduled to reconvene until after the deadline for an override vote.

Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Forrest Claypool said in a statement that Rauner was treating Chicago students like pawns in a "cynical political game" to advance his political agenda.

"As you may recall, prior to the summer’s budget changes, CPS children received just 15 percent of state funding despite representing 20 percent of state students and despite comprising a system that is both 85 percent minority and 85 percent low-income, a disparity that is both shocking to the conscience and a likely violation of our civil rights laws," Claypool said.

In other school legislation, Martwick said that his bill calling for an elected school board in Chicago was approved 110-4 earlier this year, but the Senate has not voted on the measure. Some amendments to House Bill 557 have been proposed in the Senate.

"You have to be able to elect people who serve the public," Martwick said. The budget problems of the school system and the City of Chicago are "far worse" than the state’s financial crisis, he said.