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Chicago Parents Blame Gov. Bruce Rauner For CPS Budget Cuts

Parents and students told Chicago Public Schools’ officials they are furious with Gov. Bruce Rauner for vetoing $215 million and forcing the cash-strapped school district to come up with an amended budget.

The feedback came during Monday hearings on the proposed new budget, which has $104 million less in expenses than the original $5.4 billion operating budget. 

Forty-five people signed up to speak at an afternoon hearing at the Chicago Public Schools district office downtown, but most complained more about Rauner than the budget cuts. There was an unusual lack of criticism directed toward CPS CEO Forrest Claypool. Another hearing will be held at the office Monday night.

"I am here to demand money from the state," said CPS parent Vanessa Richardson. "We can do fundraisers, we can get corporations, but that will not fix the deficit. If the governor is not with us, by definition he is against us."

Parent David Tilson said he believes the blame game in Springfield creates instability, but also that the board needs to do more.

"With one eye on Springfield, why not control what we can control?" he said, suggesting cutting bureaucracy. "While we plead with Springfield, this board has a lot to do to get its house in order."

The amended budget, to be voted on at next week’s school board meeting, will count on more than $100 million from the state -- money that is up in the air.

Over the past few weeks, Claypool and Rauner have gone back and forth over who was to blame for the district not getting this money.

Claypool maintains Chicago’s school district should have gotten this money from the state to compensate for the fact that it pays into the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund and the state’s teacher pension fund.

But Rauner says that Claypool knew the $215 million was contingent on state lawmakers agreeing to pension reform, which didn’t happen. 

The first thing Claypool did after Rauner’s veto was to announce four furlough days to take place when students were out of school, but teachers were to be in school grading and planning. Not paying staff for these days saves the district $35 million. 

Last week, Claypool announced he was freezing school discretionary spending accounts to save $46 million. Most of what is called discretionary funding is federal money that schools get based on the number of poor students at their school.

Some people at the hearings complained these cuts had a disproportionate impact on poor children. A WBEZ analysis found that schools with less than 50 percent poor students had on average $61,000 frozen -- or about 1 percent of their discretionary funding. 

Meanwhile, schools with more than 90 percent poor students had on average $101,000 cut -- or 2 percent of their discretionary funding. 

Sarah Karp is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @sskedreporter or @wbezeducation.

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