Chicago School Budget Numbers Causing Parent Angst

401(K) 2012 / Flickr
401(K) 2012 / Flickr

Chicago School Budget Numbers Causing Parent Angst

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Chicago parents are hearing that their school budgets may be slashed by up to 40 percent this year.

Chicago Public Schools officials have said schools will get just $2,495 per student, which is significantly less than what principals had to work with last year. Last year, schools got $4,697 for every kindergarten through third grade student; $4,390 for every fourth through eighth grade student; and $5,444 for every high school student. 

The new lower number is causing a great deal of angst among parents. 

“My phone, my e-mail, social media has been absolutely blowing up since yesterday afternoon,” said Wendy Katten, director of the parent group Raise Your Hand. “I’m hearing a lot of anger, a lot of fear, a lot of frustration, a lot of just disgust with the complete sort of paralysis of government leaders at all levels.”

Raise Your Hand was formed in 2010 when then-CPS CEO Ron Huberman threatened class sizes of 37 students in the face of a $1 billion dollar deficit. The district’s pension payments were ballooning because previous officials had spent most of the prior decade making little or no payments into the teachers pension fund. 

The solution Huberman and the state came up with then was to allow Chicago to take another pension holiday. CPS also benefitted from federal stimulus money and wound up ending the year with a surplus. 

But Katten said the structural problem hasn’t gone away.

“We’ve done revenue campaigns almost every year, we’ve gone to Springfield, we’ve tried to bring attention to this and it’s been ignored, up until now,” Katten said.

Parents involved with Raise Your Hand have been actively discussing on the group’s Facebook page what to do this time around. 

One mom, Jeanne Marie Olson, who is also involved in making government data more transparent, posted a link to a spreadsheet she built posted a link to a spreadsheet she built to help parents understand what a 40 percent cut would mean at each school. Olson runs the Apples 2 Apples blog with another data activist. 

“If you can see it tagged to a specific number — a potential cut of $1.5 million dollars — that gets people’s attention,” Olson said. 

She said many parents and local school councils need to plan for the best case and worst case scenarios. 

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said the district is working through individual school budgets with principals before they release them to the general public. She emphasized that many of the numbers are preliminary. WBEZ spoke to a principal about the possible cuts earlier this week.

Schools also get additional money for administrative costs, students who are in special education and poor students, but the district has not detailed how this extra funding might be affected. 

The district has been looking for help from state lawmakers in Springfield since last summer, but there’s been little movement. Illinois Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) has proposed a bill that would change how all schools are funded across the state and would require the state to kick in about $200 million annually to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. The state is responsible for the pension of teachers in all other districts and but not Chicago’s.

Republican lawmakers and others have called Manar’s bill a bailout for CPS. It passed the Senate earlier this month, but has not been called for a vote in the House. Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) said this week he respects Manar’s work on the subject, but that a different school funding plan will be presented from a House committee. Madigan did not give a timeline for when that plan would be ready.

Olson said a lot could change between now and the first day of school in September.

“We won’t know until the fall, will the school door be open? Or will the school door be closed?,” Olson said. “And if the school door is open, what are we even going to see inside of there?”