School Councils See Difficult Search For Principals In A Budget Crisis

school hallway
Brett Levin / Flickr
school hallway
Brett Levin / Flickr

School Councils See Difficult Search For Principals In A Budget Crisis

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Nearly 60 Chicago school principals have announced that they are leaving the district, with many of them choosing other jobs rather than sticking around to make what could be severe budget cuts.

More principals are resigning this year than in any other recent year.

This principal exodus has left Local School Councils in a lurch. Local School Councils are elected, volunteer bodies made up of 13 parents, community members, teachers and, in the case of high schools, a student.

They make some budget decisions, but their most important role is choosing and evaluating their school’s principal.

In 2012, the last time CPS saw large principal turnover, about 110 principals left CPS. But most of them were retiring—a decision that usually is announced in the spring so that Local School Councils have ample time to vet candidates.

This year is different. More than half are resigning and many of them just announced their decision within the past few weeks.

These announcements come at a difficult moment.

For one, Local School Council elections were just held this spring and new councils don’t take over until July 1.

What’s more, principals usually get school-level budgets in the spring. But, with the looming budget crisis, CPS still hasn’t sent out the budgets. Sources say these budgets may not be released until mid-July.

This means that concrete decisions about hiring and laying off staff have not been made.

So, Local School Councils have to make a decision: Do they choose someone quickly so the new leader is in place to navigate the budget process over the summer, or do they take their time and risk having these weighty decisions made by a place holder?

This was hotly debated at Lane Tech High School’s Local School Council meeting last week. After less than a year on the job, Principal Kathryn Anderson had just announced she was leaving to take over the helm at suburban Deerfield High School.

“We have been through some tough times and I have put you in an even tougher situation now,” Anderson said as she thanked the Local School Council.

Lane’s Local School Council was turning over completely in just a few weeks. All of the incoming Local School Council members were at June’s meeting.

Some of the new Local School Council members wanted the old members to hold off on taking any action.

“Keep the ball rolling, but don’t just make a Hail Mary pass just to say we got someone done,” said LSC member Matt Beaudet.

But others worried that waiting would put them at a disadvantage. To hire a principal, LSCs have to follow the process set by CPS, which requires posting the job for 10 days and then the district checking to make sure the candidates are eligible.

LSCs only get the resumes of principals who meet the district’s eligibility requirements. CPS did not provide information on how many principals are in the eligibility pool.

At Lane’s meeting, LSC members voted to post the job.

People at Lane were optimistic about the prospect of finding a good candidate to lead the school. After all, Lane is a selective enrollment school with more than 4,000 students.

Assistant Principal Edwina Thompson says she will vie for the principal. The Lane High School alumnus says she is confident that outside sources, such as parents or local businesses, will be open to contributing to make up the budget deficit.

Other schools don’t have the same advantages as Lane.

At another high school, North-Grand, staff learned last week that their principal, Jason Nault, was leaving.

“It was incredibly sad. It was a blow to the school for sure,” said Phil Cantor, who is a teacher rep on the LSC.

North-Grand is in the working class community of Hermosa on the Northwest Side
Cantor says the neighborhood high school is on the upswing.

But many are questioning whether the school can keep the momentum without Nault.

Local School Council member Edilberto Aviles said he thinks the district has a limited pool of eligible candidates.

“With all the schools that now have openings it makes it that much more difficult— and who wants to come into a position where they know they might have to cut 50 percent of their staff next year,” he said.

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