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CPS increases per-student funding, but extra cash already spoken for

BarbarByrd-Bennett

Barbara Byrd-Bennett

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Updated: May 11, 2014 9:54AM



Chicago Public Schools officials on Wednesday touted an increase in money to schools for each child enrolled next year, but the bulk of that new cash likely will just help keep up with inflation and teacher raises.

The $70 million CPS earmarked as extra money for classrooms — in the same year as the mayoral election — will come from a combination of ever-shrinking central office spending, dividing up a $65 million chunk shared last year among certain hard-hit schools and an adjustment in accounting that drops 29 additional days into the 2015 fiscal year, according to CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

The roughly $2 billion heading to schools breaks down to $267 more for each child in kindergarten through third grade, $250 more per student in grades four through eight and $310 more for high schoolers, district budget director Ginger Ostro said. So schools will receive $4,390 for each of the youngest elementary students in next year’s budget, $4,697 for each of the older children and $5,444 for each high schooler, Ostro said.

Byrd-Bennett said the accounting change allowing 29 more days to collect property tax money is an effort to prevent “draconian budget cuts in 2015,” though it won’t fix the pension problem or address state funding levels.

“I want to underscore this does not at all address the structural deficit that our district faces. The pension reform in Springfield and an increase in state funding remain critical longterm remedies to our financial stability and we just have to continue to protect our investments.”

District spokesman Joel Hood said the $250 base per child should help schools keep up with inflation and raises for teachers, as required by their contract.

“But it’s not wrong to characterize these as investments in the classroom,” he said in an email. “Without this increase, schools would have to make cuts. Maybe heavy cuts.”

CPS has told the Chicago Teachers Union that a 1-percent raise for all teachers equals about $25 million, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said, so the 2-percent raise due next year will cost at least $50 million — not accounting for basic inflation on top of a “step” increase rewarding teacher experience.

“When you account for inflation, it’s just flat funding for the schools,” Sharkey said. “Unfortunately the schools are understaffed and under-resourced. We were really hoping for something better than this.”

Plus, he added: “Any change in the basic staffing of a school could easily undermine a small increase in the student-based budget.” So if CPS were to ask schools to pay for principals or other staff now funded by central office, that could wipe out any gain.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said CPS “can’t keep playing games with people out there, trying to make them think that they are ... doing more than what is actually happening.”

“Come clean and tell everyone exactly what we’re doing,” he said. “They just have to play it straight with citizens.”

Byrd-Bennett repeated Wednesday that the student-based budgeting rolled out last summer — giving each school a fixed amount per child, rather than assigning a set number of teachers to a school based on enrollment — is the fairest possible system in the country’s third-largest school district.

“It’s a model that we firmly believe provides one, transparency, and provides a fair and equitable process to fund all of our schools,” she told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “It allows (principals) to create their own school budgets and staffing patterns in the ways they believe will ultimately reach the goals we’ve defined for success.”

During last year’s budgeting process — which started relatively late after the Board of Education approved closing a record number of schools — principals and Local School Councils who took big budget hits blamed the central office for leaving the tough layoff decisions to individual school leaders.

Last year, Kelly High School lost students and $4 million, so it let about 20 teachers and staffers go. Kelly still has no librarian, so the extra $310 per student could have been a “significant” $727,000, said Carolyn Brown, a reading teacher and LSC member at Brighton Park high school.

“Even if that was an additional $700,000 it still wouldn’t come close to covering our losses from last year,” she said. “But it would have been nice.”

Last year’s $6 billion operating budget wasn’t approved until August, a few days after the first day of school. Board president David Vitale said the district is releasing preliminary budget details sooner this year, hoping the board votes in June, so principals can compete with suburban districts for talented teachers, who tend to get snapped up first.

That tight timeline before made difficult decisions even harder, Brown said, adding, “If we can get the information [earlier]... then the entire school can be a part of the process ... to figure out what are our priorities — what do we need absolutely and what is it that we can still manage to do without.”

Kate Schott Bolduc, a member of the LSC at Blaine Elementary School and a co-founder of the Common Sense Coalition of LSCs called the funding “a wash.”

She said working on a school’s budget is “daunting.”

“We still will not have enough money to fulfill CPS’ mandate [of mandatory physical education], we still won’t have money to hire teachers to reduce class size, we still wouldn’t have enough money to pay for art and music teachers had it not been for Blaine parents” who fund-raised, she said.

Whitney Young Magnet High School — which will receive more than $650,000 for over 2,100 students — will likely get to keep the new assistant principal, Principal Joyce Kenner said. Kenner also speculated the money could help keep going the school’s math and writing center. Kenner hadn’t yet heard about the extra funding, because her meeting with CPS officials is Thursday.

“As a principal we will look at our budgets in their totality and determine what the funds will be used for,” Kenner said in an email. “I am positive the funds will be a small incremental increase from what we received last year.”

Email: lfitzpatrick@suntimes.com, bschlikerman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @bylaurenfitz @schlikerman



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