Lawmakers Sound Off on CPS, AFSCME Standstill

by Hunter Clauss

Republican state lawmakers plan to unveil legislation on Wednesday that would take away mayoral control from the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools, as reported by “Chicago Tonight’s” Paris Schutz.

The plan would create an emergency board to oversee the cash-strapped school district. It would also allow the district to declare bankruptcy and creates an elected school board once it’s fiscally on solid ground.

This all comes as the district could announce any day now the layoffs of thousands of teachers. It also comes as a political stalemate in Springfield has prevented lawmakers from passing a budget for more than six months.

[Sources: Lawmakers to Introduce Legislation Allowing Bankruptcy, Oversight for City and CPS]

Furthermore, contract talks with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the state’s largest union, grew increasingly sour last week when Gov. Bruce Rauner asked the state’s labor board to step in, a move that makes a strike a greater possibility.

Joining us to talk about these issues and more are Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights), Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago), Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) and Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside).

When asked whether they had been briefed on or heard about Gov. Rauner’s plan to introduce legislation on Wednesday – aside from Paris Schutz’ reporting on the story – everyone said no.

“I think they want to keep a tight hold on this until tomorrow if indeed they’re going to do that,” said Harris.

“When you talk about an oversight board for the city of Chicago, that’s pretty dramatic,” he added. “But it takes legislative action to make it happen. I do support an elected school board for the city of Chicago.”

“This conversation could have been averted, had we been in Springfield as consistently as we possibly can,” said Dunkin. “We should be there right now, talking about how it is that we can avoid this calamitous discussion of laying off [teachers] and closing our schools.”

“Yes, there needs to be reform in Chicago,” said McSweeney. “President Cullerton has been very constructive on this point. But we also need to make sure we’re focusing on the real issue, a state budget. I’m very concerned about legislation to allow bankruptcy. That could actually drive up the borrowing costs for the city; we borrowed money for the state last week at a record-setting spread. I’m also concerned that it could promote risky behavior.”

“The problem with municipal bankruptcy bills is that the creditors and the lawyers get paid first,” said Zalewski. “The House Democratic caucus position is that the money should be going into the classrooms.”

Read the article and watch the video for the full discussion at WTTW TV – Chicago Tonight.