Local students to see fewer familiar faces this year

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As CPS students return to school today, they will see fewer familiar faces in their West Side classrooms because of  teacher and staff layoffs that happened earlier this summer.

Citywide, approximately 550 teachers and 600 other CPS employees received pink slips due to declining enrollment at certain schools.

Eleven paraprofessionals and 54 members of the Chicago Teachers Union working at schools in Austin, North Lawndale, Garfield and West Humboldt Park received the notices June, according to the CTU.

CPS did not respond to requests for information about how West Side schools were affected, including which suffered layoffs and whether any of the fired teachers and staff have found jobs elsewhere in the district, as sometimes happens.

Austin resident and CTU organizer Brandon Johnson said the latest round of layoffs disappointed him and many others on the West Side.

But Johnson said the action was typical for the mayor and his administration, adding it shows Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s disdain for public education and his disinterest in African-American Chicagoans.

Over the last year or so, CPS has cut about 5,000 teachers and support staff, Johnson said, noting that 50 schools were closed in summer 2013, including four in Austin.

All these cuts create greater instability in the community, he said.

“One of the worse things you can do in a community like Austin is to further destabilize the community where parents are insecure and (have) a great deal of anxiety because they don’t know if their child is going to have a future,”
Johnson said.

Austin aldermen, in an interview earlier this summer with AustinTalks and the Austin Weekly News, said they have compassion for those who were fired in the latest round of layoffs.

“You don’t want to see anyone lose their job,” said Ald. Emma Mitts (37th). “But when it comes to education or public schools, you think of the children first, and what I saw for many years (was) the children failing and continuing to fail.”

Mitts said she’s been a commencement speaker at several graduations on the West Side and noticed the low graduation rates, with half the class not graduating.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said he doesn’t want to see anyone lose their income or employment, noting that CPS’ financial challenges and large pension bills were factors in this summer’s layoffs.

“We want the best of everything,” Ervin said. But when it comes with a price tag, “we say we have to raise revenue to cover this, then we don’t want to have that conversation, and that’s the biggest challenge of CPS.”

Schools in Austin have the capacity to serve more students, according to a recent story by our partners at the Austin Weekly News.

Some CPS supporters found reason for hope last week, when Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law legislation creating a task force that will study whether the Chicago Board of Education should be elected. Austin Rep. La Shawn K. Ford introduced the measure.

CPS is the only school district out of more than 800 statewide whose board is not elected. Mayor Emanuel appoints the Chicago Board of Education members rather than voters making the selection in local elections.

“I am looking forward to hearing perspectives on all sides of the issue of an elected school board, and I would like an objective and comprehensive discussion on this polarizing issue,” Ford said in a press release. “We must put politics aside and focus on the needs of our children.”

The task force, established under House Bill 1152, will include state lawmakers, as well as representatives from CPS, the Chicago Board of Education, the Chicago Teachers Union and a principal’s group.

A student representative also will serve on the body; dozens of students rallied last month outside CPS headquarters, urging the mayor to allow the Chicago Board of Education to be elected, as it was until the mid-1990s.

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