Session could expand beyond Daley proposal



SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP)—Gov. Jim Edgar hoped for a hurried special session on a plan to get Chicago public schools open on time. He may get protracted debate featuring dozens of plans and plenty of posturing.

The session convenes Thursday, but Senate President James ‘‘Pate’‘ Philip—like Edgar, a Republican—already has begun lobbying for changes in the plan put forward by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and backed by the governor. Others have joined Philip.

In Illinois government, one change opens the door to another change. And another and another. And since passing legislation will require votes from both sides of the aisle, the proposed changes draw a diagram for gridlock.

‘‘It would be nice if we could get it all wrapped up in two days, but there may be more to talk about than can be done in two days’ time,‘’ said Dale Duda, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Lee Daniels, R-Elmhurst.

‘‘Just losing two days may affect the opening date,’‘ said Superintendent Argie Johnson.

The Chicago public school system officially shut down Wednesday, a week before schools are supposed to open. By state law, Chicago schools—and Chicago schools only—cannot open without a balanced budget, a law Daley on Wednesday said he would ask the legislature to waive.

The system is about $298 million short. Administrators are working as volunteers in downtown Chicago offices donated by a former school board president.

A hot line tells parents of optional programs if schools don’t open on time Sept. 8. That would keep 410,000 students out of classes.

The shutdown now affects only 5,400 students who attend year-round school, which was to reopen Wednesday after a month break.

‘‘We don’t have any place to make up these days,’‘ said Belinda Thompson, mother of two students who attend year-round school.

Her daughter, Shaneen Thompson, said if she can’t go to school to learn, ‘‘I’ll just keep coming to the library.’‘

Daley called for 24-hour negotiations with the teachers union to try to get $75 million in contract concessions. He also wants to borrow $300 million for expenses this school year and next, use $55 million in pension funds and changes in work rules to reduce staff costs, all of which need permission from the Legislature.

Edgar can accept changes to Daley’s proposal and doesn’t fear that making some changes will paralyze the special session, said spokesman Michael Lawrence.

‘‘If they are focused, they can get the job done,’‘ Lawrence said. ‘‘If they’re going to be doing the bidding of interest groups, then that’s another matter.’‘

But Daley says lawmakers should consider his plan unchanged.

Philip, R-Wood Dale, wants the borrowing reduced to $200 million and the use of pension money eliminated.

Spokesman Mark Gordon said Philip was examining some changes—mostly technical and non-controversial—to make up the lost revenue. He would not elaborate.

Philip also wants some type of school voucher program linked to the finance plan. He says vouchers—which would let parents send their children to either public or private schools—would improve the school system.

Gordon said vouchers are more than a policy issue—they are a political reality needed to sell the borrowing plan to skeptical lawmakers.