Chicago Public Schools' threatened 39% budget cuts: Forrest Claypool's ransom demand

Yesterday Forrest Claypool called a few select principals togethers and informed them that budget cuts could soar as high as 39% next year.

And precisely as predicted, the news traveled like wildfire all over social media.

Just for good measure he said things like, We need to make sure there are no minutes that aren't used for instruction, and that every class is full to the brim.

CPS spokesmodel Emily Bittner told us, in hyperbole usually the opposite of what a corporate spokesmodel aims for, that communities must be prepared for "devastating cuts." "[W]e must...plan for the worst—higher class sizes, loss of enrichment activities, and layoffs of teachers and support staff," she pronounced yesterday.

Yes, it's outrageous. Yes, it's painful to contemplate. Yes, it's rhetoric that will increase the torrent of families leaving Chicago.

But it's no different than what Claypool has been doing since he was hired. He's a one-note guy. Faced with a budget shortfall since, of course, his arrival on the job, he has had only one strategy for the entire academic year: beg, shout, scream, yell, whine at Springfield for $480M. Legislators assured him right off the bat that they would not supply this cash. But this did not stop him from writing it into the budget. All year long schools have endured cuts here, cuts there, being told, until now, that no cuts would reach the classroom (which was actually a bald-faced lie).

But it hasn't worked. It didn't work from the start. It isn't working now. Springfield is about to go into recess and we are no closer to getting money from there than we ever were.

So clearly, Forrest Claypool needs to come up with a new idea.

And he did! Well, no, it's not actually a new idea, technically. Just a new method of, um, execution, if you will. A dramatic one. One that is sure to get noticed downstate.

Claypool is like the desperate kidnapper who, unable to get attention any other way, has now grabbed his hostage around the neck and is holding a gun to its head and screaming ransom demands. This surely will get the attention of Springfield, right? He seems to be saying, if you don't give me the $480M the kids will get it!

But I suspect, as with every other method he has tried to accomplish the same exact thing, this too will be met with yawns down in Springfield. Anyway, half the folks down there wish the hostage would get it. Rauner surely does. It would suit his privatization schemes very nicely if the district just fell over dead. A bullet to the head--budget cuts approaching 50% when schools are already functioning on shoestrings--would take care of that quickly and neatly.

There are, of course, other costs that come along with this high-stakes posturing.

District families are sick of this nonsense and will continue to leave, further eroding Chicago's tax base and overall health. Teachers will surely be looking elsewhere for jobs as they wait to find out if theirs are the CPS jobs that "are gonna get it." Principals who know it's over, who know they can no longer run a school with up to $4M fewer dollars, without enough money for teachers or anything else, are likely to throw in the towel. And kids? What of them? Do district officials ever even consider what it's like to be the ones playing the role of hostage--a role children certainly never chose to play? Do district bosses have any idea what it feels like for children to hear these staggering threats, wonder what will get cut next, if their school will even stay open?

Of course they don't. And they never see it. Because their kids aren't in the role of the hostage. Their kids aren't in a stranglehold, wide-eyed, eyes darting around for help, wondering if they're going to be safe. Their kids have a new art wing and a library staff of 13.

It may be all a drama to district officials, but it's the core of their everyday lives to the CPS families Forrest Claypool is threatening. But one thing he may not be counting on is the hostage disarming the kidnapper even before any outside help arrives.

If you want a better Chicago Public Schools system please like my Facebook page and join me there for more discussion. You can also follow me on twitter @foolforcps.

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