Chicago Facing Setbacks in State Legislature

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As they struggle to cope with a projected $415 million deficit, Chicago school officials cannot count on the Illinois legislature for much help.

Legislative leaders, who had planned to adjourn at the end of June, were still haggling over details of the state budget late last week. But the plan that ultimately emerges is expected to fall well short of closing the school system's huge budget gap.

The education package under consideration amounts to some $84 million, including savings from allowing Chicago teachers to take advantage of any early-retirement option that is already available to other teachers in the state.

Moreover, any hopes for gaining substantive reforms of the school system also appeared last week to be dashed.

The much-discussed issue of work rules for teachers, including eliminating job guarantees for teachers whose positions are cut, is not part of the current legislative mix, according to Jackie Gallagher, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Teachers Union.

In addition, Mayor Richard M. Daley has withdrawn his support for making such changes legislatively, arguing that they should be decided at the collective-bargaining table.

Other steps sought by reformers, including putting principals in charge of school building engineers, also have been dropped.

Still, the last-minute wheeling and dealing that always accompanies a budget agreement could revive some issues.

Gambling Plan Delayed

Mr. Daley's proposal to bring riverboat gambling to Chicago as a source of revenue for the schools also has been put off. Instead, legislators were talking about revisiting that issue in the fall, during their annual veto session.

The money that the school system could receive includes $46 million in speeded-up state-aid payments, $22 million from the Chicago schools' reserve fund, and $4 million from a textbook fund to be used to buy other materials.

Allowing Chicago teachers to retire early could save another $12 million, although the teachers' union estimates that the savings could be as much as $60 million. About 9,000 teachers--a third of the city's teaching force--would be eligible to retire.

The Chicago Board of Education, which must submit a balanced budget to the School Finance Authority by Aug. 2 in order to open schools in September, may press for a special legislative session to deal with education.

Without additional money, the school system could be forced to close schools or make deep cuts in employees' pay.--A.B.

Vol. 12, Issue extra edition

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