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The Chicago Board of Education put off approving the district’s budget 2024-2025 until July, even though the fiscal year ends on June 30. The district is facing a $400 million budget deficit and has yet to provide any details about how they are going to balance it.

Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

Chicago Public Schools lays off nearly 600 support staff members

About half of the layoffs affected teacher aides. CPS Officials said only about 5% of all teacher aides lost their positions and that most will find jobs in other schools.

As a Chicago Public Schools restorative justice coordinator, Edward Ward says he spent the last year building up trust at a South Side elementary school and working with administrators to make sure they didn’t see the students as criminals and quickly suspend them.

This is exactly what CPS officials say they want in schools, he says, and he’s exactly the type of person — a Black man — that they say they want. Only 4% of CPS’ teachers are Black males.

Yet he was just laid off by CPS. He is among a group who came to the Board of Education meeting Thursday to highlight the hundreds of support staff let go this month.

“They look at the people doing the work, on the ground, in the streets, and say you are disposable,” Ward said.

The school district acknowledged Thursday that nearly 600 support staff were laid off as schools look to the year ahead, about half teacher aides. Officials said only about 5% of all teacher aides lost their positions and that most will find jobs in other schools.

They also said these were individual decisions made by principals and that overall, CPS schools are hiring more teachers, special education aides and restorative justice coordinators.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez also insisted, as he has in the past, that spending on schools overall will either stay the same or increase next school year.

The Board of Education put off approving the district’s budget 2024-2025 until July, even though the fiscal year ends on June 30. District officials have not provided a clear reason for the delay, except to say they need more time to “socialize” the budget.

The district is facing a $400 million budget deficit and has yet to provide any details about how they are going to balance it.

Complicating the budget picture, the district this spring rolled out a new way of doling out resources to schools, giving each one a set number of positions and some flexible funding. The Chicago Teachers Union has been critical of the district for not including teacher aides or other support staff in the formula, causing some principals to choose between keeping teachers or certain support staff.

The teacher aides, many of whom have been working in their schools for years, even decades, said school district officials failed to understand the critical role they play.

Michelle Sanchez said as a bilingual teachers aide she is often called into meetings with parents and special education officials. She also regularly translated curriculum for students who weren’t yet able to do work in English.

“I am passionate about my work and helping students succeed,” she said. “I’ve also made wonderful relationships with members of my school. But most importantly, I have always taken the time to greet students with a good attitude and big smile, have small conversations with them, even when I’m having a bad day because I want them to feel safe and welcome at the school.”

A teacher also told board members on Thursday that he was overwhelmed when he had 30 students in a class and only when he got an aide could he breathe.

Black Student Success working group

Board members also heard a detailed presentation by the Black Student Success working group, charged with coming up with recommendations for making sure Black students have similar experiences and outcomes as other students.

The district announced it hired a director of Black Student Success.

The group recommended that the district make sure Black students get access to high quality buildings, resources and curriculum and instruction that are culturally responsive. They also want the district to focus on hiring Black educators and retaining them, as well as engaging students and parents. And importantly, the group will come up with a way to measure the degree to which these things are happening and their impact.

These recommendations will be part of CPS’ five-year strategic plan, which is supposed to be unveiled later this summer.

Many of these ideas are not new or revolutionary. But at least in recent history the school district has not had a person dedicated to improving the educational experience of Black students.

It comes about after a group of Black activists, including the West Side NAACP and a group that calls itself the Black Community Collaborative, pressed the district to confront the persistent “opportunity gap.” They wanted the district to create a standing Board committee to work on these issues, as it has for students with disabilities.

The board, instead, created this working group, but a new state law passed this spring requires a standing committee.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on X @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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