Chicago schools facing cuts under new funding system

Student-based budgeting still results in a budget decrease for principals

June 14, 2013

( Zagalejo/Wikimedia Commons)

Public schools across Chicago are seeing budget cuts that could force layoffs, increased class sizes and more reductions to specialty programs, like art and music.

“We lost $468,000 in funding and we are slated to lose about four positions and this would mean split classrooms and for the first time, possibly, overcrowding,” said Nellie Cotton, an LSC member and parent of two students at Grimes-Fleming Elementary on the city’s Southwest Side.

Grimes-Fleming is not the only school seeing cuts. A teacher at Roosevelt High School confirmed a $1.1 million decrease in the school’s budget, Lincoln Park High School reported a drop of about $1 million and Goethe Elementary is slated for about $265,000 less. Teachers at Von Steuben High School said they weren’t sure exactly how much their budget decreased, but had been told they may no longer have a librarian, a writing center or an administrator to deal with discipline issues.

Chicago Public Schools officials said, like any year, many schools may see cuts, while others are likely to see increases. District spokeswoman Becky Carroll did not say if the overall amount of money spent at the school level would decrease, noting that the budget is not yet final.

Carroll did acknowledge that “given the depth of this historic financial crisis it will be difficult to avoid any cuts or reductions to funding in schools.”

CPS is fundamentally changing how it distributes money to individual schools. Instead of providing positions and buckets of money for specific programs, principals are getting a specific amount for every child that enrolls at their school. Some 40 schools and the district’s 100 charter schools have been funded this way for several years.

Last week, CPS officials announced how much schools would get per student, which turned out to be less than what pilot and charter schools were getting this year.

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said charters are still crunching numbers but overall, charter grammar schools are seeing mostly level funding or slight increases, while charter high school budgets are overall declining.

It remained unclear how neighborhood schools and others funded on the old formula would be impacted until the last couple of days, as local school councils held meetings to discuss their finances.

As news of cuts trickled out, the Chicago Teachers Union sent a release listing the budget cuts they had heard about and blasting CPS for putting out a plan for quality schools just days before telling schools how little they would get next year.

“Recently they announced a plan for a ‘quality, 21st century education’,” CTU president Karen Lewis said in a statement. “Their 21st century plan looks more like a 19th century plan.”

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett issued a statement calling CTU’s allegations “disappointing and not accurate.” She again said the new funding formula will give principals “unprecedented control over their budget.”

At Von Steuben High School, history teacher Mary Brandt said she can’t fathom operating the school without a library, but doesn’t blame her principal for making the decision.

“The principal, I’m sure doesn’t want to close the library,” Brandt said. “I think the principal is trying to figure out how to make this money work. But I think they’ve been given an impossible situation.”

Colleen Dillon has two children at Burr Elementary and said the old funding formula did feel a little arbitrary and required creativity on the part of the principal.  But no matter how money is distributed, cuts are still cuts.

“It’s not the per-pupil funding I find offensive, it’s the miniscule amount that they’re giving per pupil,” Dillon said.

Spokeswoman Carroll would not talk about specific school budgets and said the district’s complete budget proposal would likely not be public until late July. She did definitively say that budgets would go up at schools designated to receive students from the 50 closing schools