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Friday, Jul 23, 2010, 10:22 am

Chicago Teachers Laid Off in Droves

BY Kari Lydersen

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Chicago teachers who spent time training their own replacements are among hundreds who received layoff notices this week. In all, up to 1,500 Chicago teachers may be laid off by the time the new school year begins. The newly elected Chicago Teachers Union leadership and about 30 rank and file members are meeting with school officials Friday afternoon.

The 600 lay-off notices sent out this week went to 400 teachers and 200 staff at elementary schools which start in early August. On June 30, 239 teachers who were not assigned to a specific school were laid off. The union has demanded they be hired back before any new teachers are hired.

The cuts are part of the school district’s efforts to address a $370 million budget shortfall. High-school classes are being increased from 28 to 33 students, and programs including world languages, bilingual education, gifted programs and after school programs are being cut.

Teachers and youth advocates say increasing class sizes and chopping after school programs is especially devastating given the violence that has plagued Chicago public school students in recent years, including the highly publicized beating death of Fenger High School student Derrion Albert last fall. After-school programs are among the ways youth advocates and parents hope to give students a safe haven and an alternative to gang activity. And more crowded classes mean a more tense and dangerous environment for students and teachers. 

Schools chief Ron Huberman has essentially blamed the union for a portion of the cuts, saying $135 million could be saved if they agreed to relinquish promised 4 percent pay raises. New union president Karen Lewis countered that the union has already made concessions, including hits to their pensions. She has said concessions by the union would set a bad precedent and take the pressure off state officials to provide funding by changing the school funding formula.

Community groups and teachers have also long demanded that schools be reimbursed tax dollars that have been diverted by TIFs (tax increment financing zones), the controversial so-called urban renewal program wherein the property taxes that go to schools and parks are frozen and any increases over the next 23 years are funneled to private development.

In Chicago, most of the city, including wealthy downtown neighborhoods, are covered by TIFs, which are supposed to be a tool used only in “blighted” areas. The union says as much as half a billion a year that should have gone in part to schools was diverted by TIFs. The money often ends up in the hands of politically connected developers and other private for-profit projects.

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Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based reporter, author and journalism professor at Medill at Northwestern University, where she is fellowship director of the Social Justice News Nexus. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her books include Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago's 99 Percent., Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun and Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover, and What it Says About the Economic Crisis.

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