The Chicago Teachers Union on Friday stated that a report finding that Chicago Public Schools, since 2006, paid out $265 million to ex-employees due to their unused vacation and sick days "unfairly characterizes teachers and paraprofessionals as abusing the system."
The finding that some 19,000 former CPS employees were paid out an average of just less than $14,000 upon their departure from the school system were the result of a joint investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times and Better Government Association.
Some former CPS employees have received six-figure payments as high as just more than $250,000 under the policy, including more than 300 principals and administrators who received more than $100,000. The BGA claims that some ex-employees used the payouts to boost their pension benefits. One prominent former employee -- former CEO Arne Duncan -- was paid $50,296.77 when he left his post to serve as secretary of education with the Obama administration.
CTU points out, in a statement posted on its blog, that teachers in the system only receive 10 paid sick days per year and are not compensated for maternity leave. The ones who qualify under the policy are those "who do all they can to never miss a day of work."
"These are the same professionals who come early, stay late and are now being asked to work even longer hours, while their benefits and pensions are under attack," the statement read. "The BGA report puts teachers in a Catch 22 -- if they use too many sick days they are given low ratings for bad attendance and if they accumulate too many they are falsely characterized as 'greedy' and 'abusing the system.' You can't have it both ways."
While the CPS employees were required to either work at least 20 years or reach the age of 65 before qualifying for the perk, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said 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." He has put a hold on non-union unused sick day employee payments for CPS and its sister agencies while the policy goes under review.
"As mayor, my greatest responsibility is to ensure that Chicago government is transparent, accountable and responsive to city taxpayers," Emanuel said Friday, according to NBC Chicago. "That is why I have zero tolerance for waste or benefit abuses of any kind."
Duncan stated, in response to the report, that "people should take a good hard look at whether or not that policy makes any sense and whether it should be kept in place in these tight budget times," Politico reports.
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said in a statement that the school system plans to follow the mayor's directive and submit a plan, by Feb. 17, of how it will address the policy going forward.
"Mayor Emanuel made it clear that he finds the current policy unacceptable and CPS is facing difficult fiscal times," the statement read. "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."
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 system said its massive budget deficit was to blame when it rescinded contractually-obligated 4 percent raises for its teachers last summer.