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Chicago Schools Are Broke, Need Springfield's Help To Fix Them

By Jim Bochnowski in News on Jun 23, 2015 9:25PM

Photo credit: Mike M.

After internal reports by the Chicago Public School System indicated that the city's schools are nearly broke, the city has turned to extreme measures to keep operations running.

In order to meet all of its obligations to the Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund on June 30, make payroll, and cover all other costs, CPS would have to "drain its checking account, max out its line of credit and burn cash set aside to pay other debts," according to a Chicago Tribune report.

When asked about these issues, Mayor Emanuel reiterated his call for the state to give additional assistance to CPS, telling the Tribune:

"Springfield has to step up and help in this case, not only as it relates to just the pension payment, (but also) the educational opportunities of our children. Because a payment will then begin to impact ... the classroom."

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey agreed with the mayor's sentiment, saying the schools "absolutely are deep in an imminent crisis. Maybe they won't be able to open, and maybe the state of schools when they do open is going to be miserable."

That is why Mayor Emanuel personally lobbied the state assembly to approve emergency legislation to put off regularly scheduled CPS pension payments until August 10 of this year.
Unfortunately, the measure did not receive enough votes to pass out of the Illinois House of Representatives, leaving the city with no extra time to come up with a stopgap solution. Prior to the vote, according to the Tribune, CPS interim CEO Jesse Ruiz told lawmakers:

"We just simply can't get this done by June 30. So we are asking you here today for more time to continue the conversation to find a more permanent solution for Chicago Public Schools. Absent this action today, CPS will be in the position of deciding between paying...pensions or operating our schools and jeopardizing the beginning of the school year in September."

On August 10, CPS will receive state school aid payments, which could leave the city in a better situation to deal with all of its obligations. However, that would imply that the state can come to a final budget agreement with increased education funding, which is very much in doubt at the moment.

As a minor stopgap for these issues, the city has planned a vote for Wednesday to authorize $200 million of new borrowing and to open up a new line of credit to borrow nearly a billion dollars to get through the coming year, according to another Tribune report.

While this represents a temporary patch for CPS finances, the looming picture seems dire. And although city officials are currently working with representatives from the Chicago Teachers Union to iron out some sort of agreement to save the schools, without additional help from the state, there will be a very real, disastrous impact on the lives of Chicago students.