‘There Are A Lot Of Unknowns’: Budgeting For Chicago Public Schools In The Age Of Coronavirus

CEO Janice Jackson told the board that the district is planning for a stable budget for next year but also hinted at trouble ahead.

Janice Jackson
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said "there are just a lot of things we don’t know" about the school district's budget situation for next school year. Bill Healy / WBEZ
Janice Jackson
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson said "there are just a lot of things we don’t know" about the school district's budget situation for next school year. Bill Healy / WBEZ

‘There Are A Lot Of Unknowns’: Budgeting For Chicago Public Schools In The Age Of Coronavirus

CEO Janice Jackson told the board that the district is planning for a stable budget for next year but also hinted at trouble ahead.

Chicago Public Schools is building a budget for next school year based on $200 million in grant money from the federal coronavirus relief act and presumed stable revenue from the state and federal government, but district leaders are stressing it is a budget fraught with uncertainty and that they could wind up in financial peril.

“What is important to note is that there are a lot of unknowns,” CPS CEO Janice Jackson said at a Chicago Board of Education meeting Wednesday. “$200 million sounds like a lot of money but is actually not a lot if we don’t receive the same amount of funding for property tax, if the state for some reason cuts budgets and uses this to supplement that. There are just a lot of things we don’t know.”

State officials have already acknowledged they are facing a huge fiscal challenge this year and next due to lost revenue. Gov. JB Pritzker is predicting a budget deficit between $6.2 billion and $7.4 billion for next year. The state has already spent $180 million on the COVID-19 crisis. Last year, a third of the school district’s total operating budget came from the state.

In addition to big questions about revenue, the school district also is trying to figure out what to put in place next year to make up for all the schooling time lost this year— and what that might cost. Discussions are underway, but decisions have yet to be made given that we’re still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the school district also is under some pressure to develop a budget for next year. Especially under Jackson’s administration, it has tried to give principals their school-level budgets in early spring so they can plan for the coming year. At the meeting Wednesday, Jackson said principals will get their school-level budget by the end of this month, which is a week and a half away.

Principals use school-level budgets to decide how many teachers they can hire or if they have to lay off staff.

Board member Lucino Sotelo noted much of the revenue that flows to the school district is dependent on how much people pay in taxes, which is connected to how well the total economy is doing. That could spell trouble for the school district.

“We don’t know the ramifications of this crisis of this total economy,” Sotelo said. “We don’t know what it will do to the city. We don’t know what it is going to do to our operational safety.”

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.