What will cutbacks mean for your school?




by BRIAN NADIG

A projected 20 to 30 percent reduction in school budgets this fall could result in the loss of four or five teachers for every 500 students at a school, according to Edgebrook School principal Chad Weiden.

“Is this locked in stone? Of course not, but this is the speculation right now,” Weiden told 500 people at a May 24 town hall budget meeting at Taft High School. The Chicago Public Schools is holding several meetings to publicize concerns that the state is underfunding schools in the city.

Weiden said that the estimated cutbacks would have “a significant impact on the quality of education,” leading to larger class sizes and more split-grade classrooms. “I’ve looked at scenarios in which I would be teaching half the day,” he said.

CPS budget manager Cameron Mock said that state funding for Chicago schools has been declining for several years and that the school system is facing a projected  $1 billion deficit in fiscal year 2017. He said that in recent years school budgets have remained fairly stagnant due to “unsustainable borrowing” and “sizable cuts’ in the central offices but that things could be different this fall without more state funding.

Part of the problem is that CPS is the only school district in the state which does not receive state funding for teacher pensions, Mock said. “We can’t keep going with the status quo,” he said.

A flier which school officials distributed at the meeting claims that Governor Bruce Rauner’s education plan would bring more funding cuts to Chicago schools and that the current funding policy discriminates against Chicago families and that “Chicagoans contribute 20 percent of the state income tax, and CPS students make up 20 percent of the state’ enrollment, but CPS students only relieve 15 percent of the state’ funding. The missing 5 percent is almost $500 million this year alone,” the flier stated.

School system officials raised concerns that the state’s funding formula was unfair given the high number of impoverished families in Chicago. Several principals at the meeting called for passage of Senate Bill 231, which calls for an equitable school funding formula.

“The governor’s budget proposal left CPS with $74 million less than previous years. Senate Bill 231, in contrast, would direct an additional $175 million to CPS so we can avoid draconian layoffs and classroom cuts that would only hurt our children,” state Senator John Mulroe (D-10) said in a statement read at the meeting. “It’s a common sense plan that brings more funding to schools with fewer resources.”

Wildwood School principal Mary Cunat urged parents to lobby on behalf of the bill in order to protect their child’s quality of education. “It’s not going to come out of committee unless our representatives hear from you,” she said.

CPS Network 1 chief of schools Anna Alvarado reported that buses would be provided for parents who wanted to go to Springfield on Thursday,  May 26, to lobby for more funding. “I’ve heard many parents are already car pooling,” she said.

In addition, Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) asked parents to contact their alderman about supporting a proposed ordinance which would direct unallocated tax increment financing revenue to the schools.

In 2015, the city had an estimated $1.5 billion in unspent TIF funds, and about $500 to $600 million could be available for the school system, Napolitano said. TIF funds are often used for infrastructure improvements, and in some instances the city has allocated TIF funds toward a school construction project.

“The way I see it, that’s taxpayer dollars,” Napolitano said. “The money is sitting there, and we have a problem. If we don’t solve it, we’re firing teachers.”

Napolitano said that the ordinance is stuck in committee “It was buried because it makes sense,” he said.

Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th) said that she was impressed by the number of parents who attended the meeting at Taft. “I think it sends a powerful message to Springfield that we are concerned about our public schools,” she said.

Ebinger School principal Serena Peterson said that the funding issue is of particular concern for Northwest Side families given the high taxes they pay. She said that relocating to the suburbs is not an option for many parents because their job requires them to live in the city.

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