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Furloughed Teachers Pack City Hall To Blast Mayor For Cuts To Classrooms

When you don't prioritize teachers, you can't say you prioritize students

CITY HALL — Lauren Kullman has a messenger bag full of papers to grade for her students at Langford Elementary School in Englewood — and a 17-month-old son at home.

But on Friday, instead of heading to her classroom for a day of grading and meetings with her colleagues, the Albany Park resident left her toddler at home with her husband — also a Chicago Public Schools teacher — and headed to City Hall to protest, along with more than 100 members of the Chicago Teachers Union and other labor organizations.

Kullman — along with all CPS employees — was sent home without pay Friday, on the first of four furlough days ordered by district CEO Forrest Claypool to save $35 million to help fill a $215 million hole in the CPS budget caused by the state budget impasse.

"It is a real slap in the face," Kullman said, sitting on the marble floor with a stack of papers in her lap and a red pen working furiously as the protest swirled around her. The furloughs will cost teachers 2 percent of their take-home pay this year, union officials said.

As chants of "stand up, fight back" echoed in the hallway outside the mayor's fifth floor office, many protesters carried handmade signs linking Emanuel, a Democrat, with Gov. Bruce Rauner and President Donald Trump, who are both Republicans.

Many of the speakers at the rally explicitly invoked the struggle against the mayor and Rauner as an issue of women's rights. Last month, 250,000 people took part in the Women's March on Chicago.

"We are here to show Rahm and Rauner that they have taken enough from us," said union organizer Crystal Williams.

Loud cheers greeted a renewal of the union's call for Claypool to resign.

"These furloughs are an outrage," said union recording Secretary Michael Brunson. "Our youth should not be collateral damage."

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The latest budget crisis for Chicago's schools erupted in November when Rauner vetoed $215 million CPS had planned to use — and included in its 2016-17 budget — to pay employees' pensions when that bill comes due in the summer.

The School Board is expected to consider more cuts at its Feb. 22 meeting.

CPS, which has a low credit rating, would be hard-pressed to borrow the money, forcing officials to impose cuts at schools across the city or increase taxes.

Claypool has said there would be no way to prevent cuts from being felt in the classrooms.

Several speakers warned that CPS planned to target clerks, who run schools' main offices and handle payroll.

Sabrina Woods, who has been the clerk at Foreman High School in Portage Park for 24 years, said the school would be "less safe and less welcoming" without a clerk.

"Clerks are the anchors of a school," Woods said, to loud cheers.

The demonstrators also expressed support for immigrants and called on Emanuel to do more to protect them from Trump's policies.

"We need real action," said teacher Roxanna Gonzalez, who criticized Emanuel for what she called symbolic actions to help immigrants, like hosting a dinner for young undocumented students worried their legal protections will be revoked.

"When you don't prioritize teachers, you can't say you prioritize students," Gonzalez said.

Representatives of the mayor and CPS did not respond to a request for comment about the protest.

Heather Cherone is a reporter/producer covering Chicago's City Hall.  Cherone joined DNAInfo from the Chicago Tribune, where she was part of the team that helped launch TribLocal in the south and west suburbs.  Cherone is also an adjunct professor of journalism at DePaul University.  Born and raised in Edgewater, Cherone graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree.  After college, Cherone moved to California, where she covered politics and local government for the Los Angeles Daily News and the Oakland Tribune.  Cherone and her husband, Michael, are the parents of two girls, Sophia and Julia.  Fun fact: A huge Chicago Bears fan, Cherone knows all the lyrics – and the dance moves – to the 1985 Bears Super Bowl Shuffle.