Chicago Layoffs Harbinger of Statewide Future?

It’s treacherous to predict future trends based on the recent past in education labor policy, but the uproar over school closings and layoffs in Chicago may soon be replicated in other areas of the state as staffing levels are reduced to match student enrollment.

In the early 2000s Chicago was like most large urban districts in the U.S. in that it hired K-12 teachers faster than the school population grew. But when enrollment fell – and it did by 3.6 percent between 2006 and 2011 – and money got tight, the staffing couldn’t be sustained. So Chicago teacher levels were reduced by 14.4 percent in that same time frame. That trend is continuing today.

A look at the rest of the state’s largest districts suggest others may follow suit. Rockford, Schaumburg and Palatine all had enrollment declines but grew their teacher workforce by 8 percent or more. In fact, 17 of the 25 largest districts increased staffing beyond enrollment, or didn’t reduce staffing to match enrollment losses.

In terms of spending, Illinois as a whole was slightly above the national average, but it varied greatly from district to district. At $11,931, Chicago was almost $1,200 above the state average, while Elgin, the second largest district, was $1,200 below.

Among the largest districts, spending reached a high of $20,816 (Township High School District 214) and a low of $8,193 (Oswego).