CPS Grapples With Budget Cuts | WBEZ
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CPS Grapples With Budget Cuts

Chicago school principals finally found out on Wednesday how much they have to spend next year and, while it wasn’t the doomsday once threatened, the news was not great.

The schools are getting about 7 percent less per student than they got last September, with the average per pupil stipend now $4,087, down from $4,390. In 2013-2014 school year--the first year CPS budgeted per student--schools were funded at a higher level.

But CPS CEO Forrest Claypool made an effort to paint the budgets as good news. He pointed out that principals already had to navigate these cuts when schools suffered midyear budget cuts. While the budget cuts are significant compared to last year’s September levels, they are comparable to the levels schools were dealing with in February, he said.

Claypool declared that there will be no classroom cuts and no teacher cuts.

“Nothing is more important to anyone standing here or to Mayor Emanuel than protecting our classrooms,” he said during a press conference Wednesday. “To parents, students, teachers, this means schools will open on time, this means no academic programs will be scaled back, this means finding new ways to innovate and use every dollar more efficiently.”

But Claypool’s declaration is not quite as sure as it sounds.

In addition, to the lower per-child amount, many schools are predicted to lose enrollment and therefore would receive even less money.

Principals must now figure out how to spend their money, balancing the need for classroom teachers with the need for specialists and support staff.

Inevitably, some teachers and staff will be laid off.

Also, this year, principals were given a lump sum for special education students and told it was now their job to figure out how many special education teachers and aides they needed. In the past, the central office allocated special education positions.

The lump sum for special education was based on how much the schools spent last year.

Claypool said he’s telling principals that they need to figure out special education staffing before they figure out general education staffing.

“They (special education children) need to be scheduled first because they are the most vulnerable students,” he said.

Lovett Elementary Principal LeViis Haney said the new system could be a good thing.

“I am pleased with being able to have that sort of flexibility,” he said.

But other principals say that this is a big change and they would have liked to have some advanced notice it was being implemented. For one thing, understanding special education staffing is complicated.

Also, if they make a mistake, they could not only hurt children, but the district could be sued.

What’s more, district officials did not make clear what would happen if a school’s lump sum was too much or too little. Principals worry that they will have to tap into other areas in order to make sure their special education students have what they need.

Another frustration is that principals have to figure this all out and turn in their budgets to CPS by next Thursday.

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

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