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Budget Cuts Force Educator Layoffs in UNO Charter School Network

Less than a week before classes began, nearly 30 teachers, support staff and social workers were let go by the UNO Charter School Network. (Araceli Arroyo/ Flickr)

The UNO Charter School Network (UCSN) laid off 29 union educators – including teachers, support staff and social workers – late last week as it worked to balance its 2016-17 budget and negotiate a new contract with its teachers union.

In a press release this week, the United Educators of UNO teachers union claims it offered up other possibilities for strategic cuts – including a reduction in administration staff and a relocation of UCSN’s downtown office space – as possible alternatives to staff layoffs, but those cost-cutting ideas reportedly fell on “deaf ears.”

“UNO disregarded the trust, continuity, and respect required to partner with our communities,” Margaret Marion, a high school counselor who was laid off, said in the release. “This hurts our ability to work with parents to guide, protect and educate our students. I've worked with the most at-risk youth in our network. This was done without a plan to serve our students. I question whether UCSN’s priorities are in the best interests of the community.”

Started in 1998, UCSN focuses on advancing the lives of community residents by challenging students, parents and faculty to reach the highest academic standards, according to its website. More than 8,000 students at the network’s 15 predominantly Latino elementary and high schools returned for the first day of classes Wednesday.

UCSN and the United Educators of UNO continue working on a new deal to replace their current contract, which expires October 2.

A statement provided by UCSN Communications says funding cuts by Chicago Public Schools forced the charter network to make “some difficult decisions” in balancing its budget for the coming school year.

Fifty-five positions, based both inside and out of the network's schools, were eliminated from its total workforce of more than 700 employees. Of those, 28 were full time union positions, while one was a part-time union employee. But due to position vacancies and rehires – 15 teachers and counselors who were laid off have since accepted new positions within UCSN – the total number of people impacted by the cuts stands at 26.

“Our highest priority is our students,” the UCSN statement reads. “We worked hard to find the most equitable way to distribute cuts minimizing the impact to our mission and core curriculum.”

Earlier this year, the state of Illinois passed a stopgap budget providing more than $600 million in funding for CPS. In July, officials released budgets that maintained the reduced student-based budget amount set in February, at $4,087. So, many budgets are flat compared to mid-year cuts, but down compared to last school year.

Additionally, CPS laid of more than 1,000 teachers and support staff personnel districtwide last week.

Among the charter network's cuts were seven graduate support advisors who provided a unique service within UCSN, helping students to transition between eighth grade and high school or high school and college.

“The elimination of these services will place another burden on classroom teachers,”said  Leticia Diaz, who was among the support advisors laid off, in the release. “I question if UNO is maintaining the principles of empowering and strengthening the Latino community when they eliminate educational services that set our schools apart from others.”

Three of the 26 impacted employees turned down offers to move into vacant positions, according to the UCSN statement, which goes on to say the cuts were made carefully in order to minimize the impact on its classrooms.

“Despite budget constraints,” the statement says, “we are confident that we have a strong team, comprehensive academic offerings, and the right resources to achieve another successful school year.”

Follow Matt Masterson on Twitter: @ByMattMasterson

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