Year in Review 2016: A Critical Year for Chicago State, CTU
Defender Contributing Writer, Erick Johnson
Chicago State University is limping its way through the school year as the predominantly Black school faces a year-end deficit that may force officials to slash expenses to keep the school afloat.
The latest development in CSU’s financial woes caps a year of serious challenges and uncertainty in the school’s 149-year history. While 2016 was a tough for CSU, it was a victorious one for nearly 25,000 teachers in the Chicago Teachers Union, which finally signed a new contract after a year and a half of contentious negotiations, protests and threats to strike.
It was also a good year for Dyett High School, which opened as an arts enrollment school this past fall, thanks to activists who went on a 19-day hunger strike in 2015 to keep the 44-year-old school in Washington Park open. The fruits of their efforts resulted in Dyett opening as an arts enrollment school this past fall.
While the achievements provide fresh hope for CTU and Dyett High School, an uncertain future remains for Chicago State as the state’s budget crisis drags on and enters a record second year. The Legislature’s Democratic majority and Gov. Bruce Rauner remain deadlocked over a spending plan as the state’s $7.8 billion budget deficit lingers and threatens to grow. Since the budget crisis began in 2015, many social programs have been hit with layoffs and budget cuts, and some have been forced to close as the state faces a $10 billion backlog of unpaid bills. An emergency stop-gap measure that was passed by the state in July expires on Dec. 31.
To keep its doors open, CSU received $32.5 million from two stop-gap budgets over a year and half. Despite the relief, the school’s trustees were forced to declare a state of financial emergency in February as the school laid off 40 percent of its employees, cut spending and travel plans and shortened library hours.
Although the state of emergency was lifted in early December, school administrators see a tough road ahead for CSU. According to news reports, the school is expected to burn through its cash reserves before the end of the school year, and may force officials to make additional cuts to keep the school afloat.
News reports say CSU could exhaust its $26 million cash reserves by May as the school stands to miss one month’s payroll of $3.5 million.
Adding to CSU’s problems in 2016 was the abrupt departure of the school’s president, Thomas Calhoun Jr., who left in September after just nine months on the job. Calhoun was paid $600,000 — equivalent to his salary for two years — as part of a separation agreement approved by the school’s trustees despite heavy opposition and outcry from students, faculty and staff.
Chicago Public Schools
The year was better for Chicago Public Schools. The district narrowly averted a major strike when the Chicago Teachers Union and CPS agreed to a new contract on Oct, 11 after intense negotiations that continued late into the night. In the end, the union signed a four-year contract that many say was not a win for either side.
Under the terms of the contract, CPS will continue paying the 7 percentage points required for their pension contribution. New teachers who are hired after Jan. 1 will not receive the benefit. To make up for the loss, new hires will get boosts in pay raises. In the last two years of the contract, current teachers will receive pay hikes of 2 and 2.5 percent, based on their level of experience and education. Union members will also begin paying higher health costs in 2019.