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Chicago schools escape severe cuts, so far

CPS principals got a first look Friday at their staffing and budgets for next fall—and they look, well, surprisingly good for a district with a giant budget deficit.

In a letter to more than 600 principals, CEO Jean-Claude Brizard told the school leaders that their class sizes will remain the same. And programs threatened in the past are preserved—including magnet schools, world languages, and some full-day kindergarten positions.

Even staffing for the district’s Culture of Calm program, which has given struggling high schools more social workers and counselors and was funded by stimulus dollars that expire in August, is saved.

There is one big thing not in school budgets—the 4 percent annual raises called for in the teachers contract. The new Board of Education, which has not been seated yet, must decide whether the district can afford teachers’ raises by June 15. They cost $80 million.

The district’s chief operating officer, Tim Cawley, says CPS is not using teachers raises as a bargaining chip with the union; he says even if raises are approved, the budgets and staffing principals received Friday won’t change.

Cawley said it would have been “presumptuous” to include the raises before the board meets. The raises are in the contract, but a provision requires CPS to state each year that it can afford them. If the Board determined it could not afford the raises, it could open the door to a strike.

The Chicago Teachers Union downplayed the decision not to include raises in school budgets, saying CPS was following procedure.

The budgets released Friday do cut 150 “supplemental” teachers and counselors across the district. Earlier this week, CPS announced $75 million in administrative cuts.

“Certainly, with our huge deficit, other cuts will be necessary and so we’re working exactly what those need to be and what are the cuts that will have the least impact on students,” Cawley said.

Still up in the air are budgets for citywide services—which include everything from social workers to some special education services—and regional administrative offices. Charter schools did not receive their budgets yet.

District officials say the overall deficit is $720 million, but they have not released any details about how they arrived at that calculation.

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