The Political Theater of Chicago Teacher Layoffs

It’s difficult to take sides in the ongoing feud between the city of Chicago and its public school employees. Everyone agrees the district is a financial mess, though they vigorously disagree about who is to blame and what is to be done. More than 1,000 employees were laid off this month, about half of them teachers. But if you have been following the news you’re probably a little confused about what’s going on. Here is a timeline of headlines:

July 13 CBS Chicago: “CPS Tells Principals No Layoffs, No Major Cuts

August 5 Chicago Tribune: “CPS lays off more than 500 teachers, another 500 school-based workers

August 5 Chicago Teachers Union press release: “Latest round of layoffs inflicts more damage, more disadvantages

August 9 Diane Ravitch: “The Chicago Teachers Union spoke out against the draconian layoffs and budget cuts imposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.”

August 15 Chicago Sun-Times: “CPS students rally against ‘racist and discriminatory’ layoffs

August 17 WGN-TV: “CPS looks to hire 1,000 teachers after laying off 500

If the last story is to be believed, the district will start the school year with more teachers than before, which largely dismantles the premise of all the previous stories. It certainly would leave Draco scratching his head.

Students and parents can still be upset that their teachers were laid off. Unfortunately for them, this is a common practice even in fiscally healthy districts. The Chicago Public Schools projects K-12 student enrollment will be down by about 4,600 students in the 2016-17 school year. The ratio of students to teachers in Chicago is about 17 to 1. A corresponding loss of teachers would then be 271. That means this was an “excessive” layoff of about 229 teachers.

Except the district reports that traditionally about 60 percent of layoffs are rehired in full-time roles at other CPS schools. Sixty percent of 500 is 300 rehires, which means CPS would be laying off fewer teachers than the drop in enrollment would normally call for.

What about the other school employees? Most large districts have a teacher/non-teacher ratio of about one-to-one, so I suspect a similar layoff/rehire pattern holds true for support workers.

In short, the overall staffing situation in the Chicago Public Schools will be virtually the same next year as it was this year. You can still think that CPS is understaffed, but it is certainly oversupplied with irate editorials.