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Chicago Board of Education passes budget, banks on imaginary money

The Chicago Board of Education unanimously approved a multibillion dollar budget that relies on imaginary money on Wednesday.

District officials admitted the $5.7 billion operating budget will need to be amended after the school year starts.

“We recognize this is a budget that is far from ideal,” said Ginger Ostro, Chicago Public Schools Chief Financial Officer.

The budget relies on almost $500 million from Springfield, even though the Illinois General Assembly hasn’t agreed to send the district any additional money. CPS leaders are in conversations with top state lawmakers.

CPS will also rely on a $1 billion short-term line of credit to make all of its payments on time. Ostro outlined the cash flow problems it keeps running into in February and June thanks to large debt and pension payments the district is required to make.

“You can see that it comes very close,” Ostro said, pointing to a chart showing revenues and expenses over the course of the school year. “Unfortunately, those payments are due right before we get those big boosts in revenue (from property taxes).”

Legally, CPS and all districts in Illinois must pass a budget before the school year starts, and amendments made later on aren’t unprecedented. CPS amended its operating budget for the 2012-13 school year in October, after the district settled its contract fight with the Chicago Teachers Union.

Board Vice President Jesse Ruiz asked district budget officials to brief Board members every month until the budget is truly finalized.

More high level departures

Two top officials announced Wednesday they’d be leaving CPS, continuing a flurry of leadership changes for the district.

CPS General Counsel James Bebley announced his retirement from the Board of Education during Wednesday’s meeting and later in the day, Aarti Dhupelia, told WBEZ she would leave her post for a new opportunity at National Louis University.

Dhupelia led the district’s Office of College and Career Success for the past two years, overseeing college counseling, attendance and truancy, student discipline and the expansion of STEM and International Baccalaureate programs in many of the district’s high schools.

Her last day will be Tuesday, September 1 and later next month she will take over as Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at the downtown Chicago university.

“It’s really an extension of the work I’ve been doing in CPS, because I’ve really been focused on how do we prepare students to be successful in college, career and life,” Dhupelia told WBEZ over the phone late Wednesday.

One key initiative Dhupelia will be tasked with overseeing is the Harrison Professional Pathways Program at NLU, which allows eligible students to earn their bachelor’s degree at a reduced tuition rate of $10,000 per year.

NLU President Nivine Megahed said the first group of about 85 students start the program next week and will also receive counseling and other help that will prevent them from dropping out. Megahed first met Dhupelia working on an initiative CPS launched to improve the number of public school graduates who finish college.

Dhupelia said the choice to leave had nothing to do with leadership change at the top of CPS.  Last month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed close confidant and government fixer Forrest Claypool.

“I know you joked when we got on the phone that I should be smiling because I’m leaving CPS, but I’ve loved it here,” Dhupelia said.

The district’s General Counsel James Bebley will retire from the Board after 22 years. He served as the district’s top attorney since 2012 and most recently dealt with federal subpoenas related to an investigation by the FBI into former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and a no-bid $20.5 million contract awarded to her former employer, SUPES Academy. 

Dyett hunger strike in Day 10

A group of 12 parents and community activists from Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood continued their hunger strike over the re-opening of Dyett High School.

Several people involved in that fight made the trip downtown to speak to the Board. Jeanette Taylor Ramann was one of them. She took the mic after Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) ceded her time at the beginning of the public comment period.

“I should not be hungry in 2015 over a neighborhood high school that is supposed to belong to the community,” Taylor Ramann said, shortly before she tried to leave the Board chambers and nearly collapsed. District officials called an ambulance and a paramedic treated her as the meeting continued. One board member, Jesse Ruiz, got up from his seat briefly to check on what was happening. It is unclear what Taylor Ramann’s status was as of publication.

The struggle over Dyett High School goes back to the rapid loss of enrollment the school experienced when the Chicago Housing Authority tore down high-rise public housing in Bronzeville. In 2011, CPS put it on the list of schools it planned to close, and stopped adding new grades in fall of 2012.

The group that’s now on a hunger strike fought the closure and in 2013, created a plan to open a new neighborhood high school, called the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School. After about a year and a half of trying to get the Board’s attention, former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett agreed to reopen the school, but put out a request for proposals instead of picking up the group’s plan.

The coalition submitted their plan in the RFP process, which was supposed to end with a voteat Wednesday’s board meeting, but the change in leadership at CPS prompted officials to push a decision out to September.

Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can reach her at and follow her @WBEZeducation.

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