Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner harshly condemned Rahm Emanuel Wednesday, denouncing the Chicago mayor as a total failure while suggesting a bold plan for a state takeover of Chicago schools.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has a severe budget deficit of about $480 million. In order to stay afloat, the city government has been forced to repeatedly lay off hundreds or thousands of workers, and additional layoffs are believed to be just months away. Pensions expenses consume about 25 cents of every dollar the district spends.(RELATED: Chicago Lays Off 1,400 Teachers To Fund Extravagant Pensions)
Rauner proposes to fix what he believes is mismanagement by Chicago officials through a state takeover. Under Rauner’s plan, the state government would have the power to remove the current CPS board of education and replace it with a special state-appointed authority. The plan would also allow the beleaguered school district to declare bankruptcy as a means of getting its fiscal house in order. Going bankrupt would allow the district to void union contracts, which it is otherwise bound by.
The Illinois Policy Institute, a small-government think tank, praised Rauner’s proposal.
“In 2012, while CPS was already in financial crisis and the city knew even tougher times would be ahead, Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed to raises averaging 13 percent for teachers who belong to the Chicago Teachers Union,” the group said in a statement sent to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “These were raises the city could not afford, and that came with no promise of better educational outcomes. Now, Emanuel and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool are urging state lawmakers to send more money Chicago’s way – again, with no promise of better educational outcomes, and no commitment to reform the things that have made CPS finances so unstable to begin with.”
Rauner placed the blame for CPS’s problems squarely on the shoulders of Emanuel, saying the mayor has been so incompetent the state has no choice but to intervene.
“The mayor has failed on this,” Rauner said Wednesday, according to The Chicago Tribune. “He’s failed on public safety, he’s failed on schools, he’s failed on jobs in the neighborhoods, he’s failed on taxes, he’s failed on reforms. And I’m tired of it. We have to take action.”
Rauner also argued Emanuel is on the brink of surrendering to Chicago’s powerful teachers union, an outcome he said would be unacceptable.
“The mayor is afraid of them,” Rauner said. “He’s not taking them on. He caved in the teachers strike four and a half years ago, and he’s sending the message right now, he’s going to give them what they want and then say, state pay for it. We are not going to let that happen.”
But Rauner may not be able to do anything. He has to work with a Democrat-controlled legislature, and top Democrats said there was no chance they’d let Rauner’s plan go through because of the threat it poses to public pensions.
“Gov. Rauner hopes to use a crisis to impose his anti-middle class agenda,” said state House Speaker Michael Madigan in a statement, according to The Chicago Tribune. “Republicans’ ultimate plans include allowing cities throughout the state to file for bankruptcy protection, which they admitted today would permit cities and school districts to end their contracts with teachers and workers — stripping thousands of their hard-earned retirement security and the middle-class living they have worked years to achieve.”
If lawmakers reject Rauner’s proposal, it’s not clear what will get CPS out of its mountain of financial problems. Besides ongoing fiscal problems, the district also faces the looming threat of another strike, which the Chicago Teachers Union has authorized. Another strike in the country’s third-largest school district could be just a few months away.
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