16 Latino Leaders Resign From Chicago Public Schools Advisory Panel

CPS Board of Education photo from Jan. 26, 2017. Andrew Gill / WBEZ
CPS Board of Education photo from Jan. 26, 2017. Andrew Gill / WBEZ

16 Latino Leaders Resign From Chicago Public Schools Advisory Panel

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A group of prominent Latino leaders resigned from a Chicago Public Schools advisory panel on Wednesday to protest mid-year cuts that disproportionately affect Latino students.

In all, 16 of the 18 members of CPS’ Latino Advisory Committee stepped down.

“We see this as a continuation of cuts in the African American Community, and now cuts in the Latino community,” said Jose Rico, current chair of that committee and former director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics under President Barack Obama.

Rico and other Latino civic leaders gathered in front of Chicago Public Schools headquarters Wednesday morning to announce their resignation. Their protest was prompted by a recent Chicago Sun-Times analysis that showed Hispanic schools are being hit with budget cuts at twice the rate of majority white schools as a result of CPS’ decision to cut $46 million from individual school budgets. 

An analysis by WBEZ showed a similar pattern for schools serving low-income students. Schools with 90 percent or more poor students have been hit with an average cut of $101,000 or 2 percent of their discretionary funding. But schools with 50 percent poor students or less are experiencing cuts, on average, of $61,000, or about 1 percent of discretionary funding. 

The Chicago Board of Education, which approved the mid-year cuts Wednesday afternoon, responded to the outcry by telling the leaders that schools could appeal individual school reductions. The only no vote was cast by a Latino board member, Board Vice President Jaime Guzman.

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool, speaking at the monthly board of education meeting, said the district chose to make the cuts it did because across-the-board cuts would have meant teacher layoffs.

“We hear the concerns of the community about these cuts, and… while we have limited options for making this more fair, we will work with schools to smooth out the most disproportionate impacts,” he said.

Claypool added that the district would use its budget office’s “standing appeals process.”

Before the board voted on the cuts, Chicago Park District President Jesse Ruiz, a former Board of Education member who had served temporarily as the district’s CEO, faced his former colleagues and told them they’d lost the moral high ground.

“What adds insult to injury is the fact that CPS has a Latino Advisory Council which it hasn’t engaged or consulted with on these budget cuts,” Ruiz said.

Parents told the school board that they’re losing after-school programs and aides due to cuts. One school said it’s out of paper.

Ron DeNard, the district’s vice president of finance, did not try to sugarcoat the impact of the $46 million freeze CPS is imposing on schools.

“When it’s a midyear cut there are no good solutions, there are no solutions that aren’t painful,” DeNard said.

And DeNard said the pain is not over. The district must still find an additional $111 million before July to completely fill its budget hole.

This latest crisis was triggered by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of $215 million the district had been counting on to make its teacher pension payment. That fell apart when lawmakers failed to pass state pension reforms.

The Rauner administration condemned the CPS cuts and said they were caused by “decades of fiscal mismanagement, and disproportionately affected low income students.”

Linda Lutton is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @WBEZeducation.