Chicago Public Schools Budget Winners And Losers | WBEZ
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Chicago Public Schools Budget Winners And Losers

With Chicago Schools CEO Janice Jackson on the verge of getting a new boss, about a dozen principals came to the Board of Education meeting Wednesday to pump her up and thank her for awarding their schools specialty programs.

The city’s mayor appoints Chicago Public Schools’ CEO, as well as members of the school board, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel is on his way out. Voters on Tuesday will select his successor. Of the two women vying to replace Emanuel, only one, Toni Preckwinkle, has vowed to keep Jackson. Lori Lightfoot has said she would make a decision after she’s elected.

The show of support comes after principals on Monday received school-level spending plans for next year, which is earlier than in past years. Overall, the school district plans to spend about $59 million more on schools next year.

Much of that will go for cost of living salary increases for teachers, but schools also got extra money for new preschool classes and specialty programs. The preschool classes and specialty programs, such as International Baccalaureate and dual language, were announced by Emanuel last week as he prepares to leave.

The bump over last year also includes $22 million more for special education and $6 million more for bilingual education. Despite the increase, some groups say it is inadequate.

But principals Wednesday had nothing but praise for Jackson.

Fairfield Principal Claudia Lopez was so overcome with emotions she could hardly speak. She said Fairfield, located in the Southwest community of Chicago Lawn, serves students who are Latino, African-American and low-income. Her school is getting an International Baccalaureate program.

“On behalf of our school community, I came to personally thank Dr. Jackson for your noble vision of creating equities across the city,” Lopez said.

Her school is set to get $347,000 more this year over last year. This includes additional money for bilingual education, as well as the IB program.

But not all schools were so lucky.  

About 110 schools saw decreases in their budgets of more than $70,000, or the the cost for an average teacher, a WBEZ analysis of school level budgets shows. Ten schools are losing more than a half a million dollars. Schools have known these cuts were coming since last fall.

That’s because the school system doles out money to schools primarily based on enrollment. The budgets school just received for next fall are based on enrollment from fall of 2018. Overall, the school district’s enrollment decreased by 10,000 students this school year, with concentrated losses in South and West Side communities.

But the school district will continue to give extra dollars to schools where enrollment has become so small that it’s impossible to offer a full education program. For the 2019-2020 school year, Jackson put $31 million into the effort, what she calls “equity grants.”  

Some schools got equity grants and new speciality programs, but are still down hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Roosevelt High School in Albany Park is one of them. It enrolled 137 fewer students this school year compared with the 2017-2018 year. Even with an equity grant, it is still slated to lose $453,000.

Yet, Principal Dan Kramer said the getting the green light to implement a dual language program gives the school hope.

“We are really thrilled about this,” he told board members Wednesday. “The entire school is buzzing about this.”

He said he sees this designation as chance to look at the school as a whole to make sure it promotes “a love and respect for our highly culturally diverse school, our neighborhood, our city.”

But some parents and advocates questioned Jackson’s decision to continue the practice of doling out resources to schools based on enrollment. Both mayoral candidates have said they want to change the way schools are funded to make it more equitable.

Jennie Biggs from the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand said her organization tracked $500 million taken out of schools under Emanuel. She said the additional $32 million Emanuel announced for specialty programs is not enough to make up for the many years of cuts.

“It has not been lost on parents who have been hustling to fill budget holes imposed by the egregious school-level cuts,” she said.

Raise Your Hand says it also is critical that the school district forces schools to compete for the extra funding.

Maria Owens, a member of the Hirsch High School Local School Council, berated Jackson and the board for leaving her school out. Hirsch had applied to be a fine and performing arts school but was turned down.

The school in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood on the South Side only enrolled 100 students this fall. An equity grant of $400,000 is preventing the principal from having to make cuts, but it is still struggling, she said.

“Our community is deeply saddened to confirm what we have suspected for some time that the district has a callous disregard for students of the Greater Grand Crossing area,” she said. “We are repeatedly derided by this board citing low enrollment numbers. Ironically, the board’s inaction and neglect has perpetuated those low enrollment numbers.”

Greater Grand Crossing did not get any specialty programs, but overall schools in the community area are getting about $1.2 million more, mostly for preschool expansion. The five community areas where schools are set to lose the most next year are East Garfield Park, North Lawndale and West Garfield Park on the West Side; and Washington Park and Grand Boulevard on the South Side.

The five areas that will see the biggest increases are Belmont-Cragin, Lincoln Square and Logan Square on the Northwest Side; and New City and Chatham on the South Side.

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

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