02/15/2012 02:40 pm ET

Chicago Public Schools Sick Day Crackdown Ahead Amid Fallout Over Large Payouts

Next week, Chicago Public Schools will present a revised sick day policy for its non-union employees aimed at bringing to an end the controversial payouts that its employees have received in exchange for unused sick days.

The policy, to be introduced Feb. 22 at the Board of Education's monthly meeting, will "provide a fair and cost-effective plan focused on employee needs and eliminate a policy that drains precious resources from the system that can instead be invested in our classrooms" according to a news release. Details of the proposal have not yet been made public.

"We intend to present a comprehensive policy to the Board that will do away with generous payouts that we simply can no longer afford so that we can invest more dollars to boost student achievement," CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said.

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler told the Chicago Tribune the change had been "in discussion for awhile and is similar to other steps the district has taken to revise or eliminate practices that have resulted in wasteful spending."

The revised policy was prompted by a Better Government Association and Chicago Sun-Times joint investigation released earlier this month. The report found that the cash-strapped school system has paid a total of $265 million, between 2006 and 2011, to exiting employees for their unused sick and vacation days accrued over their entire CPS careers -- up to 325 sick days.

Employees were required to be at least 65 years of age or needed to have worked for at least 20 years for the system to qualify for the perk, which resulted in an average payout of just less than $14,000 for some 19,000 former CPS employees. Some employees, including more than 300 former principals and administrators, received six-figure payouts.

According to the Sun-Times, the revised policy will impact 3,139 non-union CPS employees. The existing policy costs the district an estimated $37 million annually.

The Chicago Teachers Union lashed out at the report as "unfair," pointing out that CPS teachers are only allotted 10 sick days per year.

Chicago Union Teacher editor and Huffington Post blogger Kenzo Shibata argued that teachers rely on their bank of unused days should a medical emergency arise, because they do not have coverage for catastrophic illness or maternity leave.

Meanwhile, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the policy "unacceptable" and demanded a new plan.

Among those receiving a large payout for his unused vacation days was former CPS CEO and current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who received $50,297 when he left his post in 2009. In a scathing op-ed, the Chicago Tribune urged Duncan to return the payment "to do something good for the schools and set an example for everyone who works there."

The Huffington Post contacted Duncan's office for comment on the Tribune editorial, but did not immediately receive a response.


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