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Principals React to Middle of the School Year Budget Cuts

Nearly every one of Chicago’s 654 public schools will have to cut its spending plan for the next four months. The average amount lost per school is about $60,000, which amounts to about one or two teachers for the remainder of the school year.

It’s an unprecedented move to make in the middle of the school year and it comes as the district is trying to pressure state legislators to increase funding to the district and pressure the teachers union to agree to concessions in their next contract.

“These painful reductions are not the steps that we want to take, but they are the steps we must take as our cash position becomes tighter every day,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said in a statement. “Our hope is that we will be able to reach an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union, which will allow us to roll back these personnel reductions before we have to give notice to employees at the end of this month.”

To soften the blow, the district used federal money earmarked for poor children -- known as Title I -- and federal money earmarked for instruction and professional development -- known as Title II. It still left many of the city’s wealthiest schools hardest hit.

Troy LaRaviere, principal of Blaine Elementary in Lakeview, said it’s suspicious that the district was “hiding away federal and state funds from the budget picture for an entire year and then all of a sudden they appear magically out of the blue.”  

LaRaviere said he has to cut about $127,000, which could amount to about five positions for the remaining four months of the school year.

“This is not just a layoff,” LaRaviere said. “That’s certainly a shame in itself, but the bigger shame is that each one of those people who loses their job was providing a critical service to a student and students no longer get that.”

LaRaviere also blasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his allies for using students as “pawns in a political game” against the teachers union. He referenced some drama that took place at City Hall yesterday when aldermen delayed a move that could have led to CPS getting extra money from special taxing district’s known as TIFs.

“The mayor had his allies block that legislation just yesterday, as he’s claiming he wishes he didn’t have to make these cuts,” LaRaviere said.

In all, 607 schools are seeing reductions in their budgets and 48 are seeing increases. Strangely, two schools -- Montefiore and Marine Military Academy -- that have no students enrolled, but are technically still open on paper, will get about $1,500 in extra money. CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said that money would go back to the operating budget if the Board of Education votes to officially close those schools later this month.

Nate Pietrini, principal of Hawthorne Scholastic Academy, also in Lakeview, will have to cut about $95,000.

“The number was a little bit higher than I thought it was going to be,” Pietrini said. But he said he doesn’t anticipate laying off any teachers.

That’s because Hawthorne has outside income, from things like renting out the school’s turf field, Pietrini said. But he acknowledged that most schools don’t have that kind of extra money.  He added that it’s frustrating to have to use that money to plug holes created by the district instead of investing the money in new programs.

“(Parents) want to move forward with some of the things we plan and save and budget for, but they feel like we’re constantly in a holding pattern as a school because of the fear of layoffs and the fear of budget cuts,” Pietrini said.

Charter schools will also feel the mid-year cuts.

The Noble Street Charter School Network, the city’s largest group of publicly funded, privately operated charters, will see $1.8 million cut from its 16 high schools.

Cody Rogers, a spokesman for Noble, said each individual campus won’t likely feel the cuts, and it’s also not likely any teachers will be laid off.

“The good thing is that we, in a way, planned for this when we were doing our budget planning last year,” Rogers said. “At the campus level, particularly in the classrooms, there really shouldn’t be much effect.”

Because of how CPS sends money to charter schools, their reductions will be made in the final, fourth-quarter payment that comes later this spring.

District-run schools, like Blaine and Hawthorne, will have until next Tuesday to adjust their budgets and send changes to central office.

Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her @WBEZeducation.

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