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Plenty Of Criticism, Little Support For CPS Budget Plan At Public Hearing

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago Public Schools' chief operating officer heard a litany of complaints and accusations Wednesday night, during a 2-1/2 hour hearing on the board's proposed $5.16 billion budget.

The crowd booed when Chief Operating Officer Tim Cawley mentioned increased spending for charter schools, and laughed when he called the budget transparent and negotiations with teachers sincere.

University of Illinois Labor Relations Professor Steven Ashby, who is part of the steering committee of a newly-formed teachers "Solidarity Campaign," accused the board of trying to goad teachers.

"I've seen over the past 25 years a number of cases where management has acted in such a way to provoke a strike, thinking they could cripple or eliminate the union, and to be quite honest, that is what I see here," he said. "Every board meeting I go to, every statement I read from the mayor, every statement I read from (Schools CEO Jean-Claude) Brizard, seems to me that this board is intent on provoking a strike."

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Bob Roberts reports


Cawley categorically denied it.

"Anyone who thinks that we want a strike is just flat-out wrong," he said.

Teachers called the proposed two percent raise insulting and questioned the board's plan to drain its reserve fund. Cawley said not draining the fund would be unfair to students.

Close to 40 people testified at the hearing, and many more were in the auditorium of Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren St. Few were shy about speaking up.

A series of speakers said that they believed the board should tap tax increment financing funds and demand more money, in a more timely fashion, from the state of Illinois.

Cawley said the school board already has been the recipient of $125 million in surplus TIF funds, although he said that in itself would not be enough to close this year's spending gap.

Erica Clark, who chairs the group Parents 4 Teachers, said the money should be spent on enhancements to existing curricula, including music, art and physical education classes, to provide for school nurses or to stock libraries. A school board spokesperson told WBBM Newsradio that many principals have indicated that they will use the discretionary money being given to each school to provide exactly that.

Cawley said the board's position is that it would be "unfair" to leave money in the reserve account and make deeper cuts, even though it could mean that the board will face a staggering deficit in excess of $1 billion in another year.

The decision to completely drain the $432 million estimated to be in the reserve account has prompted Moody's Investor's Service to downgrade the board's bond rating, with a warning that it could be downgraded again.

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