In order to cut $85 million dollars from this school year’s budget, Chicago Public Schools have two weeks to figure out how to make an average of $60,000 in mid-year spending cuts per school.
Those difficult decisions are falling mostly on principals.
WBEZ’s Melba Lara spoke with James Gray, the principal at Hamilton Elementary School on the city’s North Side, which percentage-wise, had the third biggest cut in the city. This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
How much money are you losing?
What does that look like, is that a teacher, an after school program? What does that number mean?
"For us, it’s about 3.4% of our budget. We had the third largest percentage cut in the city and $72,000 is about a teacher’s salary."
Where do you even begin adjusting your budget?
“Most schools would turn towards technology, books, supplies, after school, etc. At Hamilton each year we budget more than 99% of our budget towards teacher salaries so, unfortunately there were not a lot of places for us to turn. Last week our local school council met and we did decide, after lengthy discussion, to close a teacher position.”
"I really believe in spending all of our money each year for our students. A lot of principals and local school councils have set aside monies for rainy days. We purposefully chose not to do that because we want our kids to have everything they need during each and every school year."
It almost seems like principals are caught in the middle of cuts that CPS is trying to make and what the state is trying to do, is that how it feels to you?
“It feels like each year principals and schools and teachers are asked to do more and more with less and less."
"It’s really interesting I had a meeting with a parent today who told me that their family was simply moving out of the state. They weren’t leaving Chicago to go to the suburbs they were leaving the state specifically because of the inaction of our state.”
How has it personally been for you in the last couple of weeks?
“It’s been difficult in that a lot of times there are things that principals have to do that are out of our control. The unfortunate reality is that it does take your time away from what you should be doing which is working with teachers and students, and you’re spending more time on the phone with the budget department."
What would you say to parents?
“Don’t give up hope that there’s going to be a solution. There are many, many great schools in Chicago. There are teachers in our city that are simply amazing. And the next thing I would tell them is to just keep an eye on the media and pressure state legislatures to do something.”
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