No school in Chicago Tight budget delays classes

September 08, 1993|By New York Times News Service

CHICAGO -- For years, the wait for word about whether school would start on time here has been a nerve-racking part of summer vacation.

While parents in other cities bought back packs and crayons for their children in anticipation of school, Chicago parents often did not know when school would start, and the scheduled opening day seemed more a vague target than reality.

The announcement over the weekend that the 411,000 students in the nation's third-largest school district would not be returning to classes as scheduled yesterday has been greeted with a sense of fatalism in Chicago, in contrast to the mood of crisis that pervades the New York City system, the nation's largest, which is closed to its 1.1 million students until the buildings can be inspected for asbestos dangers.

The deficit-ridden Chicago district put off the opening for a week while it seeks a contract with the teachers' union and looks for money to pay for the schools. It is the 10th delay in 25 years (New York's delay is its third), and previous delays here have lasted an average of nine days.

So Chicago parents are again searching for day care and explaining to their children why they will not be going to school yet.

Previous delays have been caused by teachers' strikes, including a 16-day walkout in 1987 that led to decentralization of the school system, just as a bitter 30-day strike in New York in 1968 had.

This year, the situation is more complicated. The Chicago district is facing a $298 million deficit that its financing authority says it can no longer carry. The deficit grew during the last three years, as the Board of Education granted the system's 29,000 teachers a total of 29 percent in pay increases.

Compounding the problems is the state's shrinking contribution to the school system. The Illinois portion of the budget has fallen from 48 percent to 33 percent in the last 10 years.

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