CPS school year begins while financial crisis looms

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - Chicago's public schools opened on time Tuesday. But the system’s nearly 400-thousand students may find the schoolhouse doors locked this winter, because the teachers' union threatens to strike.

Meanwhile, the Board of Education faces financial collapse.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel visited four different schools on Tuesday. FOX 32 caught up with him at Cameron Elementary, where a lot more kids showed up on the first day of class this year than did last year, earning some goodies.

“Because you came on the first day of school, you get to go to the Museum of Science and Industry for free!” said teacher Sarah Anderson.

Freebies could be why so many children showed up for the first day of class: 18 kindergarteners in Evetta Osmolski's room compared to just 3 on the first day last year.

“That's it! Way to go!” Mayor Emanuel said to a student.

As well as the first day seemed to go, two huge problems threaten to shut down the West Side's Cameron Elementary and other Chicago public schools, perhaps right after the New Year.

“That's off in January,” Mayor Emanuel said. “Educationally, we're doing what needs to get done. And we will work the political system down in Springfield to make sure that we continue to do what we need to do.”

FOX 32: Will you be able to work it out with the teachers union?

“Sure, sure.” Emanuel added.

In fact, it's far from sure.

The mayor's hope for a new contract with a hostile Chicago Teachers Union relies heavily on getting hundreds of millions of dollars of financial relief from the state capitol. But that relies on a deal between the General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner. They reportedly haven't had a serious bargaining session in months.

A teachers’ union official estimated that without new financial help from the state, more than 5,000 of CPS' 20,000 or so teachers may have to be laid off in January, increasing class size enormously.

Another option would be to increase local taxes for the schools. But the mayor's already preparing a record-breaking real estate property tax increase for his own City Hall budget, an idea he hasn't yet sold to the alderman who accompanied him to Cameron Elementary.

“My constituents, you know, would vote me out of office, if I dare to say "Yes" for a property tax increase of that magnitude,” said 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonaldo.

FOX 32: $500 million?

“$500 million. And you have also the proposed property tax increase by CPS,” Ald. Maldonaldo said.

Real estate developers are saying that real estate tax increases of that magnitude will slow the pace of new construction in and around downtown.

FOX 32's Joanie Lum contributed to this report.