Chicago principal rips CPS school budgets, Emanuel

North Side school leader says he feels compelled to shine a light on the “real, on-the-ground conditions” students will face under slashed school budgets.

July 18, 2013

(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)
Blaine Elementary School principal Troy LaRaviere at a protest at City Hall. LaRaviere says city leaders need to be as creative about finding money for schools as they are for high-profile projects like bike lanes and boat houses.

A North Side elementary school principal delivered a scathing criticism of Chicago Public School budgets today—at City Hall.

Principal Troy LaRaviere says he’s been at the helm of a number of Chicago Public Schools, some struggling, and now a high performing neighborhood school in Lakeview, Blaine Elementary.

“When people ask me, ‘How did you achieve the results that you did?’ I give them a list. And almost everything on that list has been decimated by this budget,” LaRaviere said from the podium of a press conference held at City Hall by a coalition of labor and school activists.

“We’ve lost music, we’ve lost our reduced class sizes, we’ve lost our intervention specialists, I’ve lost my ability to recruit and retain and hire the most effective teacher,” LaRaviere said.

LaRaviere said he was asked by his local school council to speak out. It’s rare for CPS principals to publicly challenge district policy, and under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration principals have said they’ve been told not to talk to the press without getting prior approval. LaRaviere said his goal was to shine a light on the “real, on-the-ground conditions” students will face under the budget for the coming school year.

Chicago is shifting to a new per-pupil budgeting system this year in which principals receive a set amount per student, plus additional money for low-income, bilingual, or special needs students.

The district has refused to say how much money total it has cut from schools, and has said budgets are still in flux. But the independent parent group Raise Your Hand is keeping a tally of budget cuts reported by schools—it’s identified up to $94 million so far, with about 140 of the district’s more than 600 schools.

Blaine’s local school council is among a handful citywide that have refused to approve the budget they were handed by the district.

Kate Schott Bolduc, a community representative on Blaine’s local school council who stood by her principal at City Hall, said Blaine hasn’t been given enough money to meet requirements laid out in the teachers contract, which put limits on class sizes and also mandates that teachers have prep periods and a 45-minute duty-free lunch break.

Another Chicago Public Schools teacher, Erika Wozniak, who teaches fifth grade at Oriole Park Elementary, questioned how the city could close 50 schools and then slate $55 million in TIF funds to build a new basketball arena for DePaul University.

“I know that if I had to foreclose my home, I certainly would not go out and buy a Range Rover two days later,” Wozniak said. The DePaul alum delivered 3,000 petitions asking that the taxpayer money go to schools instead.

“The students and alumni of DePaul urge Father Holtschneider, president of DePaul, to tell Mayor Emanuel and the City Planning Commission thanks but no thanks—as this gift of $55 million is being given at the expense of the children of our city,” she said.

The district says it is trying to keep cuts as far from classrooms as possible, but it faces rising health care and salary costs and a pension bill that will balloon from $196 million last year to $612 million this year—with no way to get more revenue. Since originally releasing budgets to principals in early June, the district has found slightly more money for high school students, lifting the per pupil amount from $5,092 to $5,132—$40 more per child. It also released $36 million in state poverty funds early; in the past, that money has not been sent to schools until October. And it says 135 schools hit by cuts are receiving a cushion payment of $35,000, $75,000, or $100,000.

Blaine principal LaRaviere called on Mayor Emanuel to use “creativity, initiative, and drive” to find funding for schools the way he has for the DePaul stadium, bike lanes, and boat houses along the river.