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Schools budget up for vote, final plan still uncertain

The Chicago Board of Education must approve its budget by the end of August. But the $6 billion plan set for a vote Wednesday could still change a lot.

As it’s written, the budget eliminates teacher raises for education or experience, adds a 2 percent raise for all employees and drains the system of its rainy day fund.

Two experts who analyze the district’s budget every year say that plan is scary.

But they also say today’s vote doesn’t mean there’s a final plan---contract negotiations with the teachers union aren’t done.

“It puts in limbo what the actual operating budget of the Chicago Public Schools (is),” said Laurence Msall, president of the budget watchdog Civic Federation. “It allows them to continue spending and maybe meet the legal definition of having passed a budget.”

Rod Estvan is an education policy analyst for Access Living, a group that works with special needs students.  He says the vote today is troubling because the public may never see the final budget.

“They can do whatever they want the day after this is passed and nobody is going to look,” Estvan said.

District spokeswoman Becky Carroll says no changes are being proposed tomorrow, but changes may have to be approved down the road.  

An interim agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union was announced earlier this month and came with a price tag of $50 million. Carroll did not say where cuts were made to make room for that.

Estvan and Msall both reiterated their concerns that the district is being irresponsible by draining all of the reserves.

Board policy requires that CPS keep 5 percent of its operating budget in reserves. If it goes below that amount, school officials have a year to replenish it.

But according to its agenda, the board will vote to extend the deadline for restoring the rainy day fund for an extra year, until June 30, 2015. Estvan and Msall both said that could prompt yet another downgrade of the district’s credit rating.

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