POLITICS

Chicago's 'Chuy' Garcia calls for $15 minimum wage at public schools ahead of debate

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 23:  Chicago Mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia greets workers during a campaign stop at a linen and uniform service company on February 23, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Recent polls show Garcia is running second to incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel whose lead is not currently large enough to avoid a runoff election. Chicago residents go to the polls Tuesday, February 24.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 23: Chicago Mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia greets workers during a campaign stop at a linen and uniform service company on February 23, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Recent polls show Garcia is running second to incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel whose lead is not currently large enough to avoid a runoff election. Chicago residents go to the polls Tuesday, February 24. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)  (2015 Getty Images)

Ahead of Thursday night's debate with incumbent Rahm Emanuel, Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia joined with the city's teacher's union earlier this week to call for a $15 minimum wage for public school employees and contractors.

While he failed to say how a struggling school district would afford to pay the increased wages, Garcia argued that teachers and other school district workers need to "earn a living wage."

"I stand here today as someone who understands the plight of thousands and thousands of Chicagoans in Chicago neighborhoods who need to increase their wages," Garcia said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "They need to improve their wages so they can be better providers and take care of themselves so they can take better care of their families."

The city's schools are expected to be a major topic of debate when Garcia and Emanuel square off Thursday night. Garcia is expected to attack the mayor's controversial decision to close dozens of Chicago public schools, while the well-financed incumbent will go after Garcia's lack of clarity on his campaign promises.

Besides arguing for a higher wage for school district employees, Garcia has said he wants increase in police and fire pension payments and hire more police officers in a the crime-plagued city.

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As the mayoral campaign enters its final stretch before the April 7 run-off election, its Chicago's school district that appears to be taking a beating, with Fitch Ratings dropping the Chicago Board of Education's bond rating by three levels last Friday – placing it just above junk status and threatening to cost the city more than $220 million in penalties.

The downgrade could trigger millions in penalties because an agreement between Chicago Public Schools, or CPS, and financial institutions requires the district to maintain a certain credit rating. CPS officials say they're negotiating with the banks to avoid the penalties.

The downgrade was more bad news for a district facing deep financial problems.

In a statement, schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the budget issues are primarily driven by "a broken pension system" expected to cost the district almost $700 million next year. She renewed Mayor Rahm Emanuel's call for changes to teacher pensions.

"There's been a lot of waste at Chicago Public Schools," Garcia said, according to CBS News. "There has been a lot of money that have been given to the cronies of the mayor, to corporations, to investment bankers. If there's enough money to make them happy, there ought to be enough money to pay for frontline workers within Chicago Public Schools."

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