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City Council’s Progressive Caucus warns ‘draconian’ cuts to CPS will reduce test scores

Updated: June 28, 2013 1:05AM

The City Council’s Progressive Caucus came out swinging Thursday against “draconian” budget cuts at Chicago Public Schools, they warned, would increase class size, reduce test scores and leave schools without essentials.

“We are alarmed by the stripping of basic necessities which define a school. The neighborhood schools have been reduced to beggars, lacking such essentials as sanitation supplies, library book funds, field trip money, playground supervision,” the eight-member caucus said in a prepared statement.

The aldermen noted that “at least 850” school employees will lose their jobs. Some principals have been forced into the untenable position of combining classes to eliminate teachers.

“Class sizes will increase…. Compounding this problem is the fact that next year, teachers will be evaluated largely upon the basis of their students’ test scores. However, with bigger class sizes, less individual attention, and fewer enhancements to the curriculum, test score decline seems inevitable,” the Progressive Caucus said in a statement.

“Injustice is written into the new budgets….Children will find some of their most enjoyable activities, subjects and extra curriculars deleted next year. No money for teaching artists, no money for art supplies, for museum visits, for sports equipment.”

Instead of ripping the heart out of neighborhood schools and “divesting from public education,” the Progressive Caucus suggested a frequently-mentioned solution it acknowledged is a temporary fix that would only “partially” alleviate the crisis: raiding surplus funds generated by tax-increment financing (TIF) districts.

“We understand an annual TIF surplus may not be a sustainable solution, but it’s available now and clearly better than short- changing our children’s future with draconian cuts,” the Progressive Caucus statement said.

“If we ordered the city’s priorities properly, we would put millions currently allocated for other TIF projects where they are most needed, and where they can do the most good — into the future of our children and our communities in the city’s neediest neighborhoods. We can still change course and do what’s right for our city.”

The eight-member aldermanic Progressive Caucus includes: Bob Fioretti (2nd); Leslie Hairston (5th); Roderick Sawyer (6th); Toni Foulkes (15th); Ricardo Munoz (22th); Scott Waguespack (32nd); Nick Sposato (36th) and John Arena (45th).

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has blamed the Illinois General Assembly’s failure to grant pension relief to CPS and permanently resolve the pension crisis for school cuts that threaten the very enrichment programs he touted as cornerstones of his longer school day.

Sawyer, whose South Side ward is home to hundreds of teachers, said Emanuel cannot wash his hands of the problem by blaming the pension crisis.

“When we were consolidating schools, the argument was we would have more resources to educate our children. Now, we’re hearing from our principals that they’re having to cut critical services our children need,” Sawyer said Thursday.

“They’re increasing class size. They’re cutting art and other programs we thought we were gonna finally get back. We need to put enough pressure on the [Emanuel] admininstration to stop placing blame and start doing something about it. These are our children. They’re not a line-item on a budget.”

Earlier this week, Emanuel returned from a week-long trip to Israel to face the music about the 48 schools that closed while he was gone and the devastating cuts made by surviving schools.

The cuts stem from a new “student-based” way of allocating money to schools based on the number of children enrolled. Their impact started trickling out last week, infuriating parents and forcing principals to consider more layoffs.

As of Friday, the parent group Raise Your Hand had identified at least 100 schools reporting more than $70 million in total cuts. Director Wendy Katten said she’d found only a few whose budgets had gone up.

“What was the point in extending the school day?” asked Jonathan Harris, 42, a Burley Elementary parent protesting CPS budget cuts outside the Thompson Center Friday. His Lake View school lost $600,000 that will result in the elimination of art and Spanish classes and PE reduced to once every two weeks.

And students at the prestigious Whitney Young Magnet High School were told they’d be offered just six classes next year instead of the current seven, with an option to pay $500 for a seventh to help pay for additional teachers. The school’s principal also plans to cut its writing center, ACT prep classes and many electives.

Several Local School Councils, including Young’s, even voted to reject their proposed budgets because they undermined the schools’ ability to provide a high quality education.

CPS, which projects a $1 billion deficit, said the new budgeting system affords principals more autonomy in hiring and programs, and that figures available are drafts — final budgets won’t be available until July.

Earlier this year, 10 aldermen with ties to Emanuel broke away from the Progressive Caucus and launched their own “Paul Douglas Alliance.”

Ald. Joe Moore (49th), a founding member, said the alliance has a “different approach” than the Progressive Caucus aimed more at solving problems than opposing the mayor.

Asked whether Emanuel had asked aldermen to form a more moderate group of progressives, a classic divide-and-conquer strategy, Moore said, “Emphatically no.”

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