Chicago School Opening Jeopardized by Budget Crisis

THE Chicago public schools will not open as scheduled on Sept. 8 unless a budget crisis can be resolved. By law, the schools cannot begin classes without a balanced budget, and there is currently a shortfall of $300 million in the school district's $2.6 billion budget.

On Friday, Gov. Jim Edgar (R) of Illinois ordered the General Assembly to return to the Capitol for a special session beginning Thursday. This gives legislators six days to resolve the cash crisis and get schools open on time.

"Chicago school kids need to be in classrooms and learning on Sept. 8," Governor Edgar said in calling for the special session. "Without action by the General Assembly, that won't happen."

Making the situation more complicated is the fact that the Chicago Teachers Union contract is due to expire this month, and the school board is asking for about $80 million in concessions to help fill the budget gap. School officials may consider across-the-board salary cuts to balance the budget.

Mayor Richard Daley has proposed that revenues from riverboat gambling be used to help fund Chicago's schools. The legislature is expected to consider the legalization of riverboat casinos in October.

The school bailout plan put together by Edgar and Mayor Daley calls for the finance authority to float $300 million in bonds over two years that will be repaid by a property-tax levy.

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