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CPS: School budgets reflect dire finances

Chicago Public Schools released budget information to principals today and it isn’t pretty.

There are 654 schools in CPS and 416 will deal with smaller budgets, district officials said Monday.

“These are not the budgets we would like to be presenting, but they reflect the reality of where we are today,” said interim schools chief Jesse Ruiz.

The cuts are driven almost exclusively by declining enrollment.

CPS is projecting it will enroll 812 fewer students this fall, as compared to last fall. Overall, that translates to $31 million less going directly to schools. But the cuts are not spread equally because enrollment patterns vary by neighborhood and school type.

The enrollment changes translate into money lost or gained. That’s because CPS uses a “student-based budgeting” formula where money follows students.

Those amounts are unchanged from last year. Schools will get $4,697 for every kindergarten through third grade student; $4,390 for every fourth through eighth grade student; and $5,444 for every high school student. According to CPS officials, 238 schools will get more money.

Documents provided to reporters show overall spending is up in charter schools and alternative schools, and down in district-run schools. Much of that is due to the nature of how charter schools are approved and opened, adding new grades every year. A school-by-school breakdown of the budget cuts is available to download.

All of the numbers released today, however, are just a small portion of the district’s overall budget—$2.647 billion of a budget that in recent years, has been hovering around $6 billion.

Much of the remaining money—roughly $3.5 billion—is used on administration and other city-wide departments that still impact schools directly, like food service, cleaning services, college and career programs, school nurses and special education.

But a good chunk is spent paying down the district’s ballooning debt payments and pension obligations. Those payments are devouring the revenues normally spent on running schools every day. Last year, CPS spent $1.24 billion on debt and pension payments—$603.8 million and $638 million, respectively.

Those debts will only continue to grow into the future.

“In order to hold the student-based budgeting numbers steady, the overall school budget, which we will release later this summer, relies on either $500 million in pension relief from Springfield,” Ruiz said. “Or a mix of more borrowing or more cuts the second half of the coming school year.”

Ruiz added that if Springfield fails to act, CPS schools could see additional cuts in the middle of the school year.

This story is developing.

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