Neighborhood high schools again take hit in new CPS budget

July 3, 2014

(AP Photo/Scott Eisen)
Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Updated Tuesday July, 8 at 8:00 a.m. 

Schools with more than $1 million slashed from their budgets are overwhelmingly the city’s public neighborhood high schools.

Once seen as anchors in many communities, neighborhood high schools have seen enrollment decline dramatically in the past decade. The decline is a direct result of Chicago Public Schools opening more privately run charter high schools. Students now scatter to schools all over the city when they go to high school.

Enrollment declines in neighborhood high schools are driving huge budget cuts, because district officials switched the budgeting formula to rely more heavily on number of students attending. At some neighborhood high schools last year, the freshman class was so small, principals were barely able to hire enough teachers to cover core subject areas, much less offer any additional courses, like music or foreign language.

Last year CPS held those schools harmless when they enrolled fewer students than projected, but this year that practice ended.

Of the 26 schools seeing $1 million or more in cuts under the newly released CPS budget, 24 are high schools. Just two are elementary schools: De Diego and Disney Magnet. The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that the principal and assistant principal of De Diego, which served as a receiving school for two schools that closed last year, were recently removed from their posts. It is unclear what is driving cuts at Disney Magnet;  at the same time the total budget decreased, the school gained three positions. (A complete list of schools with the steepest cuts is below.)

When looking at schools where 10 or more positions were cut, neighborhood high schools are again hardest hit. Of the 25 schools losing 10 staff or more, 19 are high schools. Oddly, one of those, Lindblom Math and Science Academy, is a selective enrollment high school that draws from across the city. Lindblom Principal Alan Mather said he did not lose positions. But when looking closer at the school's report in CPS's interactive budget, he said it looked like a shift from janitors funded directly by the board to those provided through Aramark may be accounting for the seemingly large drop in positions. CPS officials did not respond when asked about how janitors are counted. 

Six elementary schools -- Eberhart, Dodge, Lewis, Marquette, Cameron and Haley -- lost 10 or more positions. Three of those (Dodge, Lewis and Marquette) are run by the non-profit Academy of Urban School Leadership.

Although many schools suffered steep cuts, the overall  budget for next year rings up at $5.7 billion, which is up $500 million from last year. The increase comes even as CPS is projecting a loss of about 100 students.

CPS officials released the proposed budget on Wednesday, just a day from the start of a holiday weekend. Officials gave reporters just four minutes to look over a Power Point presentation before holding a conference call to take questions. The complete budget was not posted until 8 p.m.

It remains unclear when and where the district will hold public hearings on the proposed budget.

In the conference call, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the overall increase is largely driven by ballooning pension payments to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. The Fund’s interim director, Jay Rehak, told WBEZ earlier in the week that CPS recently made its first full payment since 2010. In previous years, CPS paid smaller installments because of a three-year pension holiday granted by the state of Illinois.

Despite having to pay more into the pension fund after years of not doing so, Byrd-Bennett touted the district’s ability to keep cuts away from classrooms this year.

Roughly $3.8 billion will go directly to schools, according to budget documents, an increase from last year’s total of about $3.6 billion. Schools will receive an additional $250 per student this year, but much of that only covers staff salary increases.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, will see an overall increase of $41 million, or about 10 percent. According to budget documents, the increase is not just from enrollment growth, but also an increase in the amount of money given to charters for every student they enroll.

A majority of the schools getting increases of $1 million or more are new and expanding charter schools, including six Noble Street high schools, two UNO schools, two Concept Schools, one LEARN school,  Catalyst-Maria, Chicago International Charter School-Quest Campus.

CPS Budget Chief Ginger Ostro said the district faced a more than $800 million deficit in this year’s budget. In order to close that deficit, officials are using an accounting trick that shifts when it counts the revenue coming in from property taxes.  

Sarah Wetmore, vice president and research director with the Civic Federation, called the proposal “not sustainable” and said CPS must work with state lawmakers in Springfield to get pension reform in order to fix the structural problems.

It is also now the fifth year that CPS has relied on a one-time windfall of cash to balance its budget.

Becky Vevea is a producer and reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZeducation.

Schools with the biggest cuts ($1 million or more)
1. Juarez HS
2. Hyde Park HS
3. Julian HS
4. Clemente
5. Richards
6. Hancock
7. Lakeview
8. Wells
9. Crane
10. Kelvyn Park
11. North Lawndale Charter
12. Harlan
13. Tilden
14. Amundsen
15. Farragut
16. Sullivan
17. Robeson
18. Kelly
19. Lincoln Park
20. Henry Ford Powerhouse
21. De Diego
22. Hirsch
23. Orr
24. Disney Magnet
25. Aspira – Ramirez
26. Fenger

Schools that lost more than 10 positions
1. Bogan
2. Hyde Park
3. Farragut
4. Amundsen
5. Hirsch
6. Crane
7. Harlan
8. Lincoln Park
9. Eberhart Elementary
10. Juarez
11. Orr
12. Clemente
13. Harper
14. Robeson
15. Julian
16. Dodge Elementary
17. Manley
18. Sullivan
19. Lewis Elementary
20. Marshall
21. Lindblom
22. Marquette Elementary
23. Carver
24. Cameron Elementary
25. Haley Elementary

*A previous version of this article stated that Jay Rehak was the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund's director. He is the interim executive director and president of CTPF’s board of trustees. Kevin Huber is the executive director of the Fund and currently out on medical leave.