Chicago Public Schools is planning to pay the Chicago Police Department no more than $15 million next year for the program that assigns police officers to schools — less than half what was allocated last year.
The police department’s contract is a tiny part of the school district’s overall budget of $6.9 billion, which was released Monday morning. But the practice of having police stationed in schools has been a source of intense controversy in the wake of the protests against police brutality this spring.
Many have questioned whether the money the school district set aside for police couldn’t be better used for social supports for students. But on Monday, CPS CEO Janice Jackson said the money saved by reducing the police contract will go to academic investment in the coming school year.
Also, just last month, it was revealed by WBEZ/Chalkbeat that last year the school district agreed to pay up to the entire 12-month salary and benefits of 209 police officers and sergeants assigned to schools. Jackson said she could not speak about why last year’s contract was not specific.
She said reducing the contract amount is one of many reforms the school district will implement to the school resource officer program.
“I think we have made it clear that we are committed to improving this program going forward and making sure that the spending is much more precise and that there is more transparency in that,” she said.
Today, as one step, the school district is making it clear that next year’s contract will be significantly less and only for specific services rendered. Already, the school district is only planning for in-person instruction for eight months at most — it will be all-remote for at least the first quarter of the year. The existing $33 million police contract expires at the end of this month, and the Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to vote on a new contract at its Aug. 26 board meeting. Earlier this summer, the Chicago Board of Education voted down a measure to terminate the contract by a narrow majority.
Also, in a surprise move, the school district will not pay for a fleet of 48 officers that rove from school to school as it now says they also do regular street patrolling around the city. WBEZ submitted a Freedom of Information Act to determine what exactly these officers do, but the school district keeps extending the deadline and hasn’t responded.
The contract is also being reduced because a handful of local school councils have voted to remote police officers from their schools. Many LSCs have not voted yet, as they have until the end of this week to decide.
Boosting spending overall
Despite the economic downturn, the school district is planning on an operating budget that is $600 million more than last year’s, mostly because it is expecting more money from the federal government in emergency COVID-19 funding.
Although that money has yet to be approved. Jackson stressed that the projections are conservative.
“I think it would be irresponsible to put out a budget assuming that the federal government is going to do nothing,” she said. “It is more responsible to put out a budget assuming that they will do exactly what many of them have said across the aisle, which is they want to support schools.”
But if the federal government doesn’t come through, then the school district would have to look to one-time measures to pay its bills.
About $75 million of that will go to expenses that are specifically related to the pandemic and how it has impacted the school district. Chicago Public Schools has already announced it will be all remote for the first quarter of the year. After Nov. 8, officials hope to implement a hybrid model in which most students are in class for two days a week.
The school district says it will use the money to buy more computers for students to use at home, more cleaning supplies and more protective equipment, such as masks and hand sanitizer.
Chief Operating Officer Arnie Rivera also noted the school district will not to get a computer for every student, not just one for every CPS family’s home. In the spring, the focus was on getting each home a device.
“We recognize that learning at home is going to be difficult if you have to share a laptop with your siblings or lack access to the internet and we are working aggressively to address that need,” he said. He did not specify how many more computers the school district will need to give one to every student.
At the same time, this school year the school district has increased costs due to the contract it signed with the Chicago Teachers Union last year ending an 11-day strike. That contract gave teachers and staff a 3% raise this year, as well as class size limits and promises to hire a nurse and a social worker for every school over time.
Altogether, CPS estimates the contract will cost the school district an additional $118 million this school year.
While the school district expects to be on solid financial footing due to a boost in federal funding, officials are acknowledging that the future may be uncertain. The state had been committed to increasing funding to school districts so they could achieve a level of funding that would allow them to provide all students what was deemed an “adequate” education.
But due to the economic downturn, the state is facing financial trouble and was only able to provide level funding for school districts. For Chicago Public Schools, that meant it will get about $60 to $65 million less than what it was projecting from the state.
Also, while overall the school district is expecting more in property taxes, other local revenue is expected to be reduced.
The school district is recovering after years of financial uncertainty in which it had to go into debt to cover its costs. This year, it will pay $711 million on that debt or $2,691 per student.
In addition, the school district continues to have to use some of its operating budget to pay for pensions for teachers and staff. In Fiscal Year, 2021 it will have to divert almost $129 million.
Rivera said the 2021 budget addresses current needs brought on by the pandemic but also keeps an eye on the future through its $563 million capital budget.
The three biggest ticket items are $50 million for a new athletic sports complex on the South Side; a $40 million annex for Sauganash School and a new high school on the near South Side to which the state already committed $50 million.
But most of the other funding decisions in the capital budget were decided through a new “equity-driven” process the school district has been working on. That process takes into account what has been spent in the past, the demographics of communities and the economic hardship the community faces.
Rivera and chief equity officer Maurice Swinney are proud of these efforts. Swinney said the school district is now going out and seeking the input of parents and others in low-income communities.
“You can look at this budget and … and I think it demonstrates our commitment to equity and ensuring all students receive what they need,” he said.
Using that process, school district officials decided to use $306 million to fix things like roofs, chimneys and fire alarms in neighborhood schools.
The rest of the money will go to support ongoing initiatives, such as renovating science labs and creating preschool classrooms for the school district’s universal prekindergarten for four year olds.
The school district also announced it will spend $100 more over five years on making schools more accessible for disabled students.