By: Mark Glennon*

Chicago’s struggling public school district and its pension fund are the easiest pieces of Illinois’ financial crisis to fix. Michigan showed us how with Detroit’s schools, and the Chicago Public School System is particularly suited to the same approach.

But what are the political chances for implementing the obvious solution? Zero. Think of this as an illustration of how detached Illinois’ political establishment remains from reality.

First, by way of background, the Chicago Public School System is a wreck, despite ever increasing financial help from the state. Its bonds are rated deep junk. Its pension is just 48% funded with a $12 billion unfunded liability, or $25 billion per Moody’s more realistic numbers. For more details, see our recent summary of the situation linked here.

And now the Chicago Teachers Union, CTU, is kicking off negotiations for a new contract with intransigence and some 200 new demands. “Our militancy is not dictated by who sits on the fifth floor of City Hall” – that was their message to Lori Lightfoot upon her election as Chicago’s mayor. New demands reportedly include affordable housing for teachers, higher salaries, increased benefits, guaranteed sanctuary status for undocumented students in classrooms and hiring more support staff.

Here’s what Springfield should authorize Lightfoot to say to CTU’s socialist president, Jesse Sharkey:

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CTU President Jesse Sharkey

“You will drop all your demands and accept what we offer. If you so much as blink, we will start from scratch with a new school district and run it as it must be. The old school district will be gone, you with it.”

It’s called “reconstitution.” Here’s what it would include:

– Creating a new school district, or maybe a number of them, perhaps bringing in the private sector where that’s the best option.

– Terminating funding for the old CPS from all sources and redirecting that funding to the new system. Transferring needed assets – only those really wanted — to the new system, probably in exchange for assumption of certain bonded debt.

– Ceasing all funding to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund and, instead, funding a new, affordable retirement plan designed to supplement the loss to retirees who need it. Letting the old pension bleed out or distributing its assets to members.

– Terminating all CPS employees and rehiring the good ones.

– Paying unsecured debt left in the old CPS, including unfunded pension liabilities, pro rata out of what assets remain and what the city elected to put in, although impaired pensioners would be helped by the new retirement plan.

Reconstitution is what Michigan did with Detroit schools in 2016. Today, the new system is on its way to financial independence. Starting a new entity to replace a broken one is commonly done in the private sector, too. That’s how the GM and Chrysler turnarounds were structured after the Great Recession – new corporations were formed and operating assets  transferred over. CPS could probably be reconstituted without any bankruptcy proceeding, but if any legal obstacles arose the old CPS could be put through a Chapter 9 process and that federal law would supersede any state law issues.

All of that would have to be authorized by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Pritzker, which is why it will never happen. Public unions are running unchallenged in Springfield. Maybe Lightfoot wouldn’t go for it, either, but we don’t really know.

Another benefit of reconstituting CPS, if the political will were there to do it, would be ending CTU, which should be a priority. They perpetually threaten strikes for endless demands, oblivious to the city’s financial plight. They teach contempt for the very economic system into which they are supposed to be teaching kids to function. They practice the most extreme brand of tribal politics to inflame racial divisions they exploit. They’ve been a blight on government at all levels by exerting exceptional influence on many elections, notwithstanding the recent loss of their machine favorite, Toni Preckwinkle. They teach hatred, at a personal level, toward the folks who create the wealth they want to seize for their endless demands.

I know, I know. Dream on. This is Illinois.

*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.

Read more about CPS and the City of Chicago’s fiscal situations:

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Loleta Didrickson
1 year ago

I love it, bold move would put education first and teachers union second. It’s about time and we’ve never had a mayor who
has stood up to them. Residents and parents would love it. Let’s take back our schools!

Danni Smith
1 year ago

wow, reconstitution kinda sounds like how the private sector operates-without the RE.

S and P 500
1 year ago

The Chicago Symphony will no longer offer pensions to new members. That is monumental news in my book but the orchestra board must have known that running an orchestra with the burden of pensions simply isn’t possible.

1 year ago
Reply to  S and P 500

I bet most folks weren’t aware orchestra musicians even had pension. But here is another example of current workers “aborting” the rights of future workers. Funny how concessions always fall to someone else.

s and p 500
1 year ago
Reply to  nixit

Orchestras often have or used to have pension benefit concerts, so I was well aware that in the past, orchestra members got pensions. I was surprised to learn that the LA Philharmonic which is doing very well financially, does not offer its members a pension. And actually current members of the CSO will see future pension benefits gradually phased out, although they will keep the pension benefits they have already earned. In the case of CSO, it’s really the rich donors who are on the hook for pensions since ticket sales make up less than half of an orchestra’s budget.… Read more »

1 year ago

You are spot on. We need to do that for the whole state

1 year ago

We need to do this with with the whole state

Tom Paine's Ghost
1 year ago

This reconstitution of CPS is inevitable. Basic arithmetic is inexorable and cares nothing about the”rights” and “feelings”of CTU members. The arrogant hubris of CTU has brought this eventual avalanche down apon themselves and they deserve every bit of pain and suffering that they have wrought. The sooner this happens the better for the CPS students and the taxpayers.

1 year ago

Per state constitution– municipalities can’t declair bankrupcy,,, but can municiple entities like cps declair bankruptcy?

1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Glennon

Thanks Mark,, i read that bankrupcy in illinois is possible but extremely unlikely because of process or lack of that state imposes,,very complicated.

1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Glennon

Mark. Maybe we are looking at the problem the wrong way. Instead of municipalities filing bankruptcy -Taxpayers should be able to do so. We(Taxpayers) would file bankruptcy only against the state’s current and future liabilities put on us (without consent) like paying someone else’s pensions and healthcare and other perks for life. It is NOT our responsibility to take care of them forever just because politicians and unions made deals behind closed doors. We would pay for police and fire protection which everyone needs and pay our everyday bills but not be responsible for their retirements. Maybe it would be… Read more »

1 year ago
Reply to  Freddy

Freddy, I’d like to say you’re “on to something” here, but the whole concept of representative government says we are bound by the decisions our elected officials legally make, and there are many, many decades of court decisions affirming that we can’t individually decide what’s to be abided and what isn’t. So, in short, your comments, while appealing to many, suggest you’re more likely “on something” than the original thought I suggested. In general, whether they make such decision processes public or not is theirs to make. Don’t forget that the citizens if IL had to approve by their votes… Read more »

1 year ago
Reply to  James

James. Thanks for your comment. In regards that we are bound by decisions of our elected officials I would argue that many of our officials are self elected by redistricting/gerrymandered or running unopposed so it is difficult to elect a balanced form of government. We now have in essence have a 1 party government (house-senate-judges-governor-speaker) and that government panders to only a a small percentage of the population on the backs of all. In the 1970 Constitution it states that the health safety and welfare are provided by an representative and orderly government but is it really? Money is “Diverted”… Read more »