December 18, 2014
Monday is a suprisingly important day for the Chicago Public Schools.
It’s the 10th day of school, the day that now determines how much money a school will get and keep this school year because everyone enrolled is officially counted.
In a year of myriad changes in the country’s third largest school district, moving the kid count to the 10th day from the 20th perhaps is one of the less harrowing, one that even adds stability to struggling school budgets earlier than usual.
School budgets are directly based on enrollment. Extra money for poor kids, for example, or for special education students, is allotted for the exact number of each a school enrolls. So the sooner the count is in place, the sooner a school’s principal can finalize staff.
And with CPS doling out money per student this year — money that now directly pays teacher salaries, for aides and supplies instead of allotting numbers of teachers to schools — counting kids enrolled at schools accurately is still essential.
Based on the district’s enrollment projections, principals have hired staff using the amount of money they were given based on those projections. Monday’s count finalizes what they’ll keep.
At schools that don’t hit their projections, principals will have until the 20th day to decide how to deal with budget and staff cuts. Schools that surpass projections will be given more money for additional children who show up until the 20th day.
“It’s really good news for principals,” CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said. “It’s designed to give principals absolute stability… In the past, if you lost students, you would have been penalized for that.”
All staff members will know by the 20th day — Sept. 23 this year — if their jobs are disappearing.
“We can’t reduce funding to a school after 20th day if it will impact a teacher’s position,” Carroll said.
The Chicago Teachers Union said it’s been asking CPS for years to move the count day up. Waiting until the 20th day — a whole month into school — left schools in planning limbo. Schools didn’t have authorization to add staff yet, or had to cut teachers a month in and rearrange schedules.
“Teachers have to get fired and the whole school has to get reprogrammed, which has a cascading effect throughout the schedule of the school,” said CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey. “We’re not in favor of cuts . . . but having the staffing of your school locked in place, it’s the earlier the better.”
The whole process ends up being harder on schools with more turnover in kids transferring in and out, which typically are neighborhood schools that serve poor kids, Sharkey said. Magnet schools, and selective enrollment schools that require tests to get in, have much more stable populations.
“One of advantages that selective enrollment and magnet schools have,” he said, “is that they’re very confident that the kids who registered in the summer are going to show up on Day 1.”
Charters also count kids Monday, too, on CPS’ 10th day of school, giving them less time to get kids settled, said Andrew Broy of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. That could be tricky since charter models vary in terms of discipline or schedule or learning model, so some kids need time to decide about staying, he said, adding, “There’s more transition on the 10th day than the 20th day.”