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CPS begins budget cuts

Chicago school officials are announcing initial efforts to plug the district’s $720 million budget deficit.

Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard stood with Mayor Rahm Emanuel this morning in the hallway of South Loop Elementary School to highlight what they don’t want to lose:

“My commitment is to keep cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” said Brizard.

He went on to announce $75 million in administrative reductions. Those include closing vacant positions, and “limited” layoffs downtown.  Empty floors of underutilized schools won’t be cleaned daily. Lights will be turned off in schools over the summer.  Kids may have longer bus rides to school.

But following on the heels of cuts made under former schools chief Ron Huberman, Brizard was at times scraping the bottom of the pail: he announced four janitors will be chopped from a roving custodial crew of 20, for instance, saving the district $200,000.

Brizard, who’s been on the job a week, said he would resist letting the bleak budget outlook drive decision making.

”You’re going to find in my administration that we look to build the plan, then look to find the money,” he said. “We’ve got to design something that will work for all kids—and then beg, borrow, find efficiencies, scream, holler, and find the dollars to support what we know has to be done. “

Some potential good news: More than a third of the deficit disappears if the state pays what it already owes CPS. Illinois is behind on more than $293 million in payments to Chicago schools, with invoices dating back to December 2010.  Emanuel indicated the school district would take out a short-term loan until state payments arrive, as the district did last year.

In contrast to previous years, officials did not call for teachers to give up their 4 percent raises they’re slated to receive under their current contract.

The Chicago Teachers Union issued a statement about the cuts: “The fact that there is $75 million in achievable savings in administration and bureaucracy underscores the need for more transparency about CPS spending.” Current leaders of the union have fought in the past for CPS to release a more detailed, line-by-line budget.

There will be more school budget news tomorrow: that’s when principals are expected to find out how many teachers they have for next year, and what their local school budgets look like.

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