New city high school belies budget realities | WBEZ
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"Incredible" new city high school a contrast to harsh budget realities

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel cut the ribbon Thursday on a new high school in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, but the gleaming new facility contrasts sharply with the budget picture for the rest of the city’s neighborhood high schools.

The $91.5 million state-of-the-art high school near 47th and Damen was 10 years in the making, Alderman George Cardenas says.

The mayor touted the school’s International Baccalaureate curriculum, its athletic fields, and a public library branch to be located inside the school.

“At every level, this is a first for the city of Chicago—from parks to libraries to school—and it defines, in my view, what a community campus is,” Emanuel said before cutting the ribbon on the green artificial turf field adjacent to the school. Appearing with Emanuel, schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett declared the facility--which includes a six-lane pool, five computer labs, music performance rooms, and six science labs--"the most incredible school that I have seen in probably my entire career."

But a new analysis by independent Catalyst Chicago magazine shows neighborhood high schools are the big losers in this difficult budget year. Ninety percent of the city’s 65 neighborhood high schools are seeing cuts of more than $100,000, Catalyst found.

Enrollment in this set of high schools declined by 2 percent, but their funding was slashed by 14 percent.

Catalyst’s analysis shows enrollments are up at charter and alternative schools—and those schools’ budgets are up even more.

The district has said cuts to classrooms total $68 million in this year’s budget, but that is a net calculation. Total cuts to schools are much greater, but increased budgets at charter and alternative schools mask the extent and size of the pain. A Catalyst spreadsheet based on CPS budget figures shows 444 schools in the district are experiencing cuts totalling $262.6 million (the analysis excludes schools slated for closure). It shows that even net cuts to schools is significantly higher than the district let on, around $110 million.

The mayoral visit to Back of the Yards was Emanuel’s second stop at a school this week where TV cameras were invited but reporters were not allowed to ask the mayor any questions.

The mayor's office did not respond to a request for comment on the Catalyst analysis. Reporters have been asking for clarification on details of the budget for two weeks, but spokeswoman Becky Carroll has said the budget office has been too busy to respond to requests.

Tomorrow, the city council’s education committee will hold a hearing on Chicago Public Schools’ budget, which is slated to be voted on by the Board of Education August 28. Aldermen are expected to discuss using TIF funds to ease some budget pain.

Back of the Yards is one of two high schools opening on the Southwest Side this year to relieve overcrowding. The other is the UNO Soccer Academy charter high school. Nearby schools such as Kelly have been so overcrowded in recent years they have run staggered shifts.

The mayor’s office is touting Back of the Yards High School’s “wall-to-wall” IB curriculum. A press release issued Thursday cites a University of Chicago study that showed “IB students are 50 percent more likely to attend a highly selective college than their peers who did not participate in the IB program.” But that study examined the traditional International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, which is a high-powered college-prep curriculum. As WBEZ first reported, the program being offered to the vast majority of students at the city’s new wall-to-wall IB schools is a new, untested, unstudied IB “career-related certificate” track.


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