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Euphoria is over for CPS schools that won reprieve, kept doors open

Crystal Cook Marcus Garvey School. |  Sun-Times files

Crystal Cook, at Marcus Garvey School. | Sun-Times files

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Updated: August 23, 2013 6:06AM



Seven Chicago Public Schools that seemed doomed to go away in a record round of school closings won a last-minute reprieve in May that felt, said parents, miraculous.

“Thank God,” Crystal Cook, president of the Local School Council for Marcus Garvey, 10309 S Morgan, and a mother of four Garvey students, said at the time. “I got all my parents together, and we made it.”

But now that the euphoria’s worn off, an uncertainty has set in about what the upcoming school year could look like, given budget cuts at some of those schools. Indeed, the 2,100 layoff — including teachers and other CPS staff — announced last week reinforces that murky picture.

Garvey, Leif Ericson Elementary Scholastic Academy, Marcus Garvey Elementary School, Mahalia Jackson Elementary School and George Manierre Elementary School got a last-minute reprieve the night before the Board of Education voted in May to permanently shutter 48 schools. Clara Barton Elementary School, 7650 S. Wolcott, also was spared by schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett from having its entire staff fired and replaced. And Crispus Attucks Elementary School and Miriam G. Canter Middle School were given more time to phase out before closing in coming years.

Manierre — whose multi-million-dollar investments by outside partners prompted Byrd-Bennett to leave the school open — is losing some $450,000 over last year, parent Sherise McDaniel said, calling the cuts “a slap in the face.”

Word is that’ll cost the small school of about 350 students two positions, including the art teacher, she said.

“If our kids didn’t already suffer enough with this, and the teachers feeling like their jobs were saved only to know that two of them were cut,” McDaniel said. “For Manierre at this point, those cuts are going to hurt very bad.”

Manierre has a single room for each of 6th, 7th, and 8th grades and two each of the younger grades — which doesn’t leave a lot of room to get rid of teachers.

Manierre hopes it might attract more students to the school, 1420 N. Hudson, from other area schools that have closed, like Peabody Elementary School, 1444 W. Augusta, though CPS projects they’ll lose about 20.

Those numbers matter this year because CPS now allots money to schools based on the number of children enrolled, instead of the old way of assigning a set number of teachers. The more students, the more money, and the principal, with help from the Local School Council, gets to decide how to spend it — affording more autonomy to principals, the district says.

“CEO Byrd-Bennett is a former principal and teacher and shares the frustration that many schools are experiencing surrounding the financial crisis facing the district but because we did not receive pension relief and Springfield and have declining and flat revenues coupled with a $400 million pension increase and other contractual and statutory obligations, this crisis has landed on the doorstep of schools,” spokeswoman Becky Carroll said. “We’re going to continue to scrub every line in our budget possible to ensure we’re sending back every dollar we can to our classrooms.”

Central office will pay for air conditioning and security upgrades in each of these schools as needed and send iPads for the 3rd to 8th graders, too, Carroll said, which the children would have received in their new schools had their schools been closed. CPS also is doling out $36 million in state aid in coming weeks instead of October to help principals plan. For example, Manierre will get another $44,000 in state money it typically would have had to wait for, Ericson another $345,000, Garvey $42,000 and Jackson $725,000, according to the district. The district also has handed out to 135 schools extra budget money totaling $35,000, $70,000 or $100,000 according to specific district-developed criteria. Jackson is the only one of the seven on the list that is set to receive an extra $70,000, according to CPS.

At least 155 schools — according tothe parent group Raise your Hand — have seen cuts totaling at more than $95 million.

Attucks’ share could be as much as about $600,000, according to its LSC. The grade school, at 5055 S. State, had hoped to use the next two years before it’s scheduled to close to prove itself to CPS that it’s worthy of remaining open.

That challenge skyrocketed with news of the cuts. Granted the school will have fewer children than last year because it’s losing students — Attucks is no longer accepting pre-K or kindergartners, but it’s still going to lose several more teachers, said LSC president Learna Solsberry, who sent her kids, grandkids and now three great-grandchildren to Attucks. “It is not fair to the children,” she said. “They cut the budget so short, the money they have for the children is not going to be enough . . . to give our children a decent education that they need.”

Art and music are going away and it looks like the media room won’t be permanently manned because a computer teacher is going, too, Solsberry said. A fifth grade teacher won’t be returning, and three teachers’ aide jobs are also on the chopping block, she said, adding, “It’s looking terrible already and the year hasn’t even started.”

The LSC at Canter, 4959 S. Blackstone, doesn’t know what to expect; they have yet to see their budget. Neither has Mahalia Jackson, 917 W. 88th, its LSC president said. LSCs of schools on academic probation aren’t required to vote on the budget, Carroll said, though principals are encouraged to share their spending decisions.

Ericson, though, likely will lose teachers, according to LSC member Cynthia Johnson, which means no more art or music.

“We may have to lose one teacher position, a special position that was closed,” she said. “One of the teacher’s aides may have to be let go.”

Ericson - like other schools - now has to pay for their assistant principal out of their own budget, instead of being allotted one by central office, and custodial supplies that central office used to pay for.

“We worked so hard and just with the grace of God, our school was open,” Johnson said. “We just want to make sure we keep the school open, and the children get everything they need.”

Ericson, 3600 W. 5th Ave., will find a way. Its parents are not well off, but they’re resourceful. The quality of education it will afford its students will still be good if not as diverse as before, she said. Parents will have to step up to be more hands-on, she said. And they likely will, having just been galvanized to save the school.

“With this particular nightmare of having our school being closed,” she said, “we’ll have more parent participation.”



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