CPS invites citizens to weigh in on district budget

CPS invites citizens to weigh in on district budget

Chicago Public Schools held three public hearings Tuesday evening on its proposed budget for next school year.

That budget relies on money that doesn’t yet exist and guts services from programs for some of the district’s neediest students.

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool presented a budget last week that relies on state lawmakers to help fill a $480 million hole in the school system’s budget. This year’s $676 million pension payment eats up about 12 percent of the district’s operating budget. CPS officials plan to make a debt payment of $538 million and restructure the rest out into the future.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave CPS the go-ahead to raise property taxes for the fourth year in a row, but a cap on how much property taxes are allowed to increase will limit how much revenue can be raised for classrooms.

Given all of that, the amount of money making it to schools is roughly the same as it was three years ago. Major cuts are taking place in departments that serve the neediest students. In special education, district officials are slashing about $30 million, laying off teachers, leaving 200 vacant positions unfilled, and closing a school, though CPS officials refuse to call it a closure, Catalyst Chicago reports.

Another significant, but unmentioned move is the district’s decision to cut funding for a group of 23 schools that were saved from closure in 2013. Then-CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett created the network, called the Office of Strategic School Support Services, or OS4, that existed for a little over a year and provided schools with intensive support.

OS4 will lose half its budget, going from $34.2 million to $16.1 million. Budget documents say the office will continue to serve the same number of schools, but Kyle Hillman, a community representative on the local school council of Gale Math and Science Academy in Rogers Park, said the school has been removed from OS4 and put back in Network 2.

Hillman said in the short time Gale was part of OS4, it moved up a level from the district’s lowest performance rating.

“The added resources, the extra professional development, the in-school assistants, the technology, those things are all gone,” Hillman said.

Hillman said Gale lost OS4 funding and also saw a decline in enrollment that will mean $362,000 less in the budget. He said the logic behind tying funding to enrollment sets up schools to fail.

“When you cut the programs, kids leave, and when the kids leave, you cut my programs because I don’t have enough resources,” he said. “There’s no way for a school that is in this downward cycle to come back out of it, because you can’t return the programs that make kids want to stay in school.”

An analysis of budget documents also shows $5 million less will go to many of the district’s specialty programs for students who are academically advanced. The extra money that goes to classical schools, magnet programs, gifted centers and selective enrollment high schools will see cuts between $500,000 and $1.3 million.

The public hearings on the proposed budget were held simultaneously from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Schurz High School, Malcolm X College, and Olive-Harvey College. The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget on Wednesday, August 26.