CHICAGO--The Chicago Board of Education received relief on two fronts over the weekend as it tried to keep schools open while struggling to balance its fiscal 1994 budget.
Late on Friday, the board escaped a midnight shutdown when U.S. District Judge James Alesia issued a fourth court order suspending the state law that requires a balanced budget for the schools to be open. The order lasts until Oct. 18.
The board faces a $298 million deficit in its $2.8 billion budget for fiscal 1994, which began Sept. 1.
Alesia issued his order when it appeared that the board could the midnight deadline that another had set for a teachers contract. But on Saturday, the board and its teachers union reached a tentative agreement that both sides predicted would cause U.S. District Court Judge Charles Kocoras to extend the deadline for shutting the schools, according to a source familiar with the finances of the board and its financial oversight authority.
The school board turned to Kocoras in September when it could not meet the balanced-budget requirement. So far, he has issued three court orders delaying shutdown of the schools.
Alesia is involved in the schools' Plight because he is trying a suit filed on Friday by minority school children and their parents seeking to keep the schools open beyond the midnight deadline.
Kocoras set the contract deadline in an Oct. 4 temporary restraining order. He said that if the board and union reached an agreement by that time, he would extend the restraining order until Oct. 15 to enable the Illinois General Assembly to consider a two-year $300 million general obligation bond plan to assist the school system. The bonds would be issued by the Chicago School Finance Authority, which oversees the school board's budget.
Kocoras is expected to hold a hearing today on whether to extend the deadline to Oct. 15. Though board and union officials missed Kocoras' deadline by a day, they reportedly believe that he will be satisfied with their efforts. A union ratification vote on the agreement is reportedly scheduled for the end of this week.
Meanwhile, the fall session of the General Assembly convenes today. In addition to $300 million GO plan, the board also wants permission from lawmakers to borrow $55 million from the teachers' pension fund and use $18 million in restricted state funds to help balance the board's budget.
Rating agency officials have raised concerns about the board's plan to borrow money for operating purposes.
The suit that brought Alesia into the budget crisis argues that the balanced-budget law violates the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution by denying minorities a right to public education.
In court documents, Alesia said he granted the temporary restraining order because "there was no doubt" in his mind that a shutdown of the school system would cause "irreparable harm" to students.
The suit went to Alesia because Kocoras declined to hear the case, according to court documents.
A source familiar with the finances of the board and the authority said the plaintiffs in the class action suit could drop their suit if Kocoras orders that schools can be kept open until Oct. 15. The source said that the plaintiffs goal to keep schools open past Kocoras' Friday deadline would be met if Kocoras allows schools to stay open until Oct. 15.