According to a joint investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Better Government Association, Chicago Public Schools is reportedly spending tens of millions of dollars each year to pay its outgoing employees for any unused time off.
According to the report, the cash-strapped district has paid a total of $265 million for the leftover sick and vacation days, the majority of which were sick days accrued over a period of as much as 30 years. The payouts, awarded to some 19,000 employees between 2006 and 2011, average just less than $14,000 but were as high as just more than $250,000.
Under the policy, CPS employees who either work at least 20 years or reach the age of 65 are eligible for the payout on up to 325 unused days off. The payouts have also been used by some former employees to boost their pension benefits.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is, expectedly, not pleased by the revelation. A spokeswoman for the administration told the Sun-Times the policy, rare among private employers, is "unacceptable to the mayor and not consistent with the city's sick day policies for its own employees."
(Scroll down to watch a report on the CPS vacation and sick day payout policy.)
Jitu Brown, a local school council leader, told CBS Chicago that the news was "horribly sad, but I'm not surprised." He said that money should be used to benefit students at a time where the school system is struggling to balance their budget.
Ascencion Juarez, a former CPS employee, was paid $170,787.71 for his unused time off and told CBS that the extra days are paid at an employee's current salary -- not the salary they were earning at the time the days were accrued. Some 219 of Juarez's unused days off were earned before 1998, when he was earning less than half of his eventual top salary: $166,904.76.
Arne Duncan, former CEO of CPS, was, according to CBS, paid $50,296.77 when he left his post to serve as secretary of education for the Obama administration.
CPS stated in response to the reports that "per Mayor Emanuel's directive to all sister agencies, CPS has halted sick day payments to non-union employees and are currently reviewing our sick day policy."
"Mayor Emanuel made it clear that he finds the current policy unacceptable and CPS is facing difficult fiscal times," the statement continues. "It is incumbent upon us to be fiscally conservative with every taxpayer dollar we spend to ensure that every available dollar is being invested in our students. We expect to present recommendations on our sick day policy on February 17th as the Mayor has requested."
Earlier this month, the CPS inspector general released a report detailing a host of misconduct allegations against the system's employees, including inappropriately disbursed benefits to retired teachers working as substitutes that led to the loss of more than $1 million in district funds. a CPS spokesperson called the report's findings "both serious and disappointing."
As of last fall, CPS, as it made its case for property taxes to be increased by the maximum amount possible, reported a budget shortfall of about $710 million. The tax hike would cost an average homeowner $84 a year on a house valued at $250,000. The system pointed to its massive budget deficit as the reason it rescinded contractually-obligated 4 percent raises for its teachers last summer.
WATCH a report on the controversial policy: