Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the third largest school district in the country, laid off more than 1000 employees in August. The downsizing exacerbated an already tenuous relationship between teachers and CPS administrators and drew swift rebuke from students.
The firings over budgetary concerns impacted 508 teachers and 521 support staff. Officials within CPS described them as “normal” yearly firings that would remove the employees from the payroll while the district adjusted its budget. Many of these teachers, the district claims, will be rehired.
A group of students held a rally at a center of government offices to protest “racist and discriminatory” firings, The Chicago Sun-Times reported. They asserted the firings disproportionately affected low-income schools, hence perpetuating the cycle of poverty in those areas.
“The schools that are affected the most are the low-income schools, the schools on the South and West Sides,”August Greenberg, a high-school student at the protest, told The Sun-Times. “The students in those schools don’t have other places to go.”
Still, teachers have voiced dismay at a school system they feel perpetually puts their interests last and creates instability in classrooms across the district.
“Oppression is not an accident; it is a centuries-long design,”
Xian Franzinger Barrett, a seventh and eight grade teacher recently fired from CPS, wrote online.
Barrett, who has been fired three times in the past six years from CPS, railed against a system he says he feels powerless over:
“Oppression is the only way to describe the reason why I sit jobless, surrounded by piles of published student work from brilliant teaching and learning in a class I was asked to teach, while those who mismanaged the funds of the district collect their checks and continue to wield power over our students.”
Barrett had been rehired after his prior two hirings but has yet to hear if he will be rehired this fall.
In some ways, the recent firings seem like more of the same for the beleaguered school district plagued with financial difficulties. Last summer, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel narrowly avoided defaulting on a payment to the teachers’ pension fund, securing the $634 million necessary to make a one-time payment.
That payment came at a steep cost, with the elimination of some 1,400 jobs at Chicago Public Schools and $200 million in budgetary cuts.
Last week, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool expressed optimism abut the district’s budget, The Chicago Tribune reported.
But financial experts still harbour doubt over the relative strength of the district into the future.
“They’re operating in crisis mode,”Brian Battle, a director at the Performance Trust financial firm, told The Tribune.
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