Parent group wants more eyes on CPS budget

July 17, 2014

(WBEZ/Becky Vevea)
Wendy Katten, executive director of the parent group Raise Your Hand, explains what happened to neighborhood schools in CPS’s budget proposal for next school year.

A city-wide parent group wants more eyeballs on Chicago Public Schools spending before the Board of Education votes on its budget proposal for next year.

On Monday night, leaders of the group Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education transformed a meeting room inside the Eckhart Park field house into a training center.

The group’s executive director Wendy Katten and board member Dwayne Truss gave a crash course on the budget proposal that CPS officials released late in the evening on July 2nd. Three simultaneous public hearings were held last night.

But Katten said even people closely connected to the public schools tend to have a hard time figuring out where CPS is spending taxpayer money.  

“This is public money and we want to give people access just to the information,” Katten said. “It’s available. It’s public information. It can be intimidating and hard to find and read. So we want to get people involved and feeling comfortable.”

There have been major shifts in the last few budget cycles, the biggest being a change in how schools are funded. Each school now gets a dollar amount “attached to each child’s head,” Truss explained to the audience. The per pupil amount this year is up from last year and ranges from $4,400 to $5,400, depending on the grade.  Most of the increase just covers the cost of inflation and teacher raises.

The training was not unbiased. Katten, Truss and other Raise Your Hand members encouraged people to ask specific questions at tonight’s hearings, like why the district is cutting librarians and increasing spending on standardized tests. Raise Your Hand mostly advocates for neighborhood schools, which continue to face steep cuts as Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushes for more charter and magnet schools.

Katten said the group is still frustrated by the closure of 50 neighborhood schools last year, a decision that’s even harder to swallow given that CPS keeps opening new schools.

“Since the fall of 2012, which was when CPS announced there was a massive underutilization crisis, we found that they have opened 21,481 new seats of all kinds,” Katten said. “We were told that winter, that fall, that the district would be taking resources and investing them more wisely in existing schools, which would make sense. But we see that they continue to just be spread thin.”

CPS spokesman Joel Hood said this year the number of new seats at charter schools is roughly the same as the enrollment declines in existing district-run schools. Hood also said it’s unfair to say the district did not invest in the schools that took in students from closed schools.

However, most of those so-called welcoming schools are seeing cuts this year.

The three public meetings were held at the following locations:

Wilbur Wright College

Events Building Theater

4300 N. Narragansett

Kennedy King College

Theater

740 West 63rd Street

Malcolm X College

Theater

1900 West Van Buren


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