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Local School Councils band together, reject CPS budgets

(Fom left) Cook Co Commissioner John Fritchey Ald. AmeyPawar (47th) State Senator Greg Harris call for compromise CPS funding City

(Fom left) Cook Co Commissioner John Fritchey, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), and State Senator Greg Harris call for compromise on CPS funding at City Hall on July 2, 2013. | Lauren FitzPatrick~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 4, 2013 6:23AM

Local School Councils from more than 30 schools have joined a new coalition that publicly rejected draft budgets from Chicago Public Schools on Tuesday morning, calling them inadequate to pay for the education Chicago’s children deserve.

And while it’s still unclear — even to the Illinois State Board of Education — what kind of actual power Common Sense: Coalition of LSCs for Fair Funding might wield, the parents, teachers and community members involved met at Blaine Elementary School to call for sufficient school funding.

“This budget fails our students in arts and music, it fails them in academic interventions and it fails them repeatedly,” Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere told about 125 people from a few dozen schools and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th). “Education has to be a major priority because of what our students lose when it isn’t.”

Blaine lost about $600,000, costing the school its art and music teachers and a reading program for young children that LaRaviere credited with getting kindergartners to read at a first-grade level. Its LSC and others, including Edgebrook Elementary School, already sent letters to CPS saying they would not vote to approve the budgets.

“It gave us some bad choices,” between paying for supplies and office staff or losing language teachers, said David Klevati, a member of the Edgebrook LSC. “What the LSC could not understand is why CPS wants to punish high performing schools with experienced teachers.”

Unlike the public and community hearings leading up to the eventual closure last month of 48 schools, largely on the South and West sides, the coalition Tuesday drew support from some of the city’s most prestigious schools in the wealthiest ZIP codes. They are protesting draft budgets that they say forced principals at schools such as Whitney Young Magnet High School, Walter Payton College Preparatory High School and Bell Elementary in North Center to cut arts programs, special writing and literacy programs and other special subject teachers.

What that shows, Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey said at a separate news conference at City Hall, is the need to look at possible TIF and tax solutions for the budget. “The city’s in this together. . . . This is not a black or brown or white problem, this is a green problem,” he said.

CPS changed its budgeting from a system that allots positions to a school to one that doles out a set amount of money per student and lets the principal decide how to spend it, saying that gives principals more autonomy. Many schools say they’ve received less money than last year. CPS hasn’t released any of the budget drafts, saying they never do until budgets are finalized. Raise Your Hand, a parent group, said that as of Tuesday it had found about $88 million in school-based cuts at about 145 schools.

Common Sense was not yet clear about what is supposed to happen after LSCs reject school budgets. Neither was the state Board of Education, when asked about state law governing LSC powers.

“As a former teacher and principal, I share the frustration facing many schools today. . . . We can’t cut our way out of this crisis or avoid impacts on our schools altogether without pension reform or without relief from Springfield.” schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement. “We need parents, local school councils, elected officials and school communities to join us as partners to fight for lasting solutions to our financial challenges.”

Blaine and a few other schools reported that they have been in direct contact with Byrd-Bennett, who invited them to join her in asking Springfield to pass pension reform, but representatives from those schools said they have not yet been given any specific next steps.

As for what might solve the impasse, the district pointed to the Illinois School Code, which calls on LSCs to approve budgets but does not specify what happens in case of rejection. CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said the district’s interpretation lets Byrd-Bennett appoint a financial adviser for an LSC that is “not carrying out its financial duties effectively” to help it and the principal reach a budget agreement.

Quinn said it was still “too early” to say what Byrd-Bennett’s actual next step would be.

Meanwhile, at Agassiz Elementary in Lake View, the Friends of Agassiz fund-raising arm asked parents in a flier to consider donating or soliciting money from local businesses to make up for a $240,000 loss, saying that by July 31 they would need $84,000 — or $270 a family — to hire back one teacher.

Yet at Murphy Elementary School in Irving Park, Roberta Salas said parents at the mostly low-income school could barely afford $30 fees for agendas, so there would be no way the schools parents could make up the $600,000 in cuts on their own. “Our teachers have become master grant writers,” she said.

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