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Chicago Principals Told to Cut Spending; Teachers' Union Prepares for 'Day of Action'

With cash in short supply, the Chicago school district has told its principals to mind their money as the district tries to save up to make a $688 million pension payment at the end of June, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The district has been cutting expenses—including making layoffs and restructuring staff—as it becomes clearer that it may not get a bailout from legislators in Springfield to right its finances and plug a current year budget gap of more than $400 million.

The Sun-Times reported that the district hosted a webinar for principals on Wednesday, warned them about an upcoming "lean July" and imposed limits on spending without prior approval.

Principals will now need to get permission from network chiefs to spend more than $5,000, according to the paper. They were encouraged to use federal and state money to buy supplies, the paper reported. And one principal told the Sun-Times that principals were given minimum sums to keep in their school accounts.

Emily Bittner, a CPS spokeswoman, told the paper that the spending freeze was "voluntary."

"Principals' hard work has already prevented significant cuts to the classroom this year, and their voluntary diligence in slowing spending for the remainder of the semester will balance our need to conserve limited resources while educating our children," Bittner said.

On Wednesday, the Chicago Teachers Union shed more light on its April 1 "Day of Action," which it announced last week after CPS added three unpaid furlough days to the school year.

A poster on the union's Facebook page called for an April 1 march and day of action against Gov. Bruce Rauner, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ken Griffith, a hedge fund manager and vice president at the Chicago Education Fund, and "the Rest of the 1%." The post included photos of the three.

The post said the teachers' union was calling for the march to protest poverty, racial injustice, corporate welfare, and tax injustice.

Union president Karen Lewis said last week that April 1 would be "a showdown," but the union has been hesitant to characterize the April 1 event as a planned strike.

The Facebook post called for supporters to "Shut It Down." Another Facebook event for April 1 asked Chicagoans to withhold their labor, withhold their dollars, boycott the Magnificent Mile, engage in non-violent direct action protests, and demand progressive taxation.

Local news website DNAinfo reported that The Service Employees International Union's Healthcare Illinois offered up support to the teachers' union call for a day of action.

So did Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders:

The union has been without a contract since June 30. Last month it rejected an offer by the school district that included many of its requests. One of the key sticking points was a CPS proposal to end the long-standing practice of picking up the bulk of the teachers' union members' pension contributions.

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