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Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez attends a monthly Board of Education board meeting at Chicago Vocational Career Academy High School in the Avalon Park neighborhood, Thursday, April 25, 2024.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez listened to concerns about shifts in the school district’s budgeting formula at a Board of Education meeting at Chicago Vocational Career Academy High School Thursday evening April 25.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere

Facing budget criticism, CPS officials say changes are 'milestone' to be celebrated

Facing criticism over a new budgeting system being rolled out this month, Chicago Public Schools officials defended the change, calling it a “milestone to be celebrated” for its focus on equitably distributing money to schools.

Parents at some selective enrollment and magnet schools have complained of apparent cuts to their budgets as the school district focuses on providing resources to schools where students have high needs. And in a surprise, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s top ally — the Chicago Teachers Union — was also critical of the district’s lack of transparency and failure to prioritize classroom aides in the budget, even though the union has long supported a shift toward needs-based funding.

But the changes have been “long coming,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said at Thursday evening’s Board of Education meeting at Chicago Vocational Career Academy in Calumet Heights on the South Side.

“For decades, activists have rightly protested school funding inequity,” Martinez said, recalling his days as a student at Benito Juarez Community Academy, when he said there weren’t any Advanced Placement classes despite being in the honors program.

“Let us celebrate this change as an important milestone in the long, broad struggle to improve the quality of education for all of Chicago’s children, especially those farthest from opportunity,” Martinez said

For years, families at neighborhood schools, particularly in Black communities and lately in Latino neighborhoods, have protested cuts under the district’s budgeting system that gave pots of money based on enrollment at schools — which hurt schools when they lost kids. Now that CPS is trying to redistribute resources based on the level of hardship in schools to make up for that historical under-funding, Local School Council members at some selective enrollment and magnet schools are saying they’re coming up short.

Kimberly Jones, an instructional assistant at Till Elementary magnet school in Woodlawn, said she and two other support staff have been told that their positions are being eliminated. She’s worked there for 28 years.

“We have been there,” Jones said. “We are the first responders. We are the first ones that see them in the morning. We are the last ones they see leaving. We are their parents in some cases. We are their counselors. We are there for our children. “

Board President Jianan Shi acknowledged the “uncertainty, the uneasiness some communities are feeling right now.”

He said the board has directed Martinez to monitor budget conversations daily to assess staffing impacts, then provide a public comprehensive analysis before the board considers the budgets for approval in June.

“This is new, and the transition to something new is not always smooth,” Shi said. “But moving away from [student-based budgeting] and toward a budget based on student needs is necessary.”

Shi also reiterated the district’s calls for more state and federal funding and said CPS would be “living in a world of trade-offs” until it gets more resources.

Christel Williams-Hayes, a senior Chicago Teachers Union official and former school paraprofessional, said the union sees some good aspects of the new budgeting system. But she’s concerned about the impact on paraprofessionals, who aren’t among a few positions — assistant principals and counselors — that will now be guaranteed at every school.

CPS is “robbing our students of the invaluable support and care from these incredible educators and school employees,” Williams-Hayes said. She called them the “backbone of the community.” And while the union has long advocated for the end of student-based budgeting, Williams-Hayes said CPS has provided little information about the new budgets.

“CTU will not stand by and allow CPS to steal from one underfunded school to shore up and give to other underfunded schools to make it even,” she said.

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