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Chicago Public Schools deficit up to $720 million


Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Interim Chicago Schools CEO Terry Mazany Wednesday delivered bad news — followed by more bad news.

The estimated Chicago Public School deficit for next school year is $720 million, Mazany said. That’s up $20 million from just before his predecessor walked out the door in late November.

Mazany called for “shared sacrifice,’’ including from teachers. Their pay raises will cost $80 million but, Mazany said, any successor to him appointed after Rahm Emanuel is seated as mayor May 16 will have to decide whether to try to re-negotiate the teachers’ contract to trim that tab.

The interim CEO also proposed a series of what he called “urgently” needed actions that would impact 4,800 students at 17 schools, displace up to 100 teachers and up-end the jobs of, eventually, nine principals.

In a move to address sagging enrollment at some schools and the growing needs of others, Mazany announced plans to consolidate eight schools into six others. A 15th school, Tilton, would slowly “phase out’’ of existence, with any new kids in its attendance area picked up by two other schools.

In total, about 700 students would be routed to new buildings under the proposals, officials estimated. They projected an April school board vote on the plans, but said hearings could trigger changes.

Two charter high schools, two traditional high schools and a magnet school would gain additional seats out of the deal. One of the charter high schools — Urban Prep-East Garfield — would also gain access to a new $2.2 million campus park.

In a briefing with reporters just before Wednesday’s monthly board meeting, Mazany also indicated even more shakeups are possible. He said “turnarounds’’ — in which all teachers at an academically-failing school are given pink slips but students remain — are “still to be considered’’ this school year.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis charged the moves violated promises by former Schools CEO Ron Huberman to involve the union in school shakeup decisions and to give communities earlier warning.

“The Board has a moral obligation to honor its promises,’’ Lewis told School Board members at a packed meeting.

However, Mazany defended the plan, saying he had whittled down a list of 40 schools with enrollment problems to the bare minimum that “urgently’’ needed action.

“We cannot simply push this down the road any further,’’ Mazany said.

Most of the consolidations would trigger short-term costs, but produce long-term efficiencies, officials said.

Three involve folding schools that already are under a phase-out and contain less than 150 kids into other schools. The smaller schools — Schneider, Carpenter and Andersen — had reached a “tipping point where the number of students had grown so small that it calls into question the quality of the program,” Mazany said.

Another consolidation merged three small schools located in the old Bowen High building into a fourth small high school at that site. The academically strongest of the bunch — New Millennium — would survive but the others did not produce the results small-school advocates had projected.

In addition, Avondale Elementary would merge with adjacent Logandale Middle, Both buildings would form one, new preK-8 school, allowing Avondale to balance out its overcrowding between the two buildings.

In one example of the confusion and late-notice that seemed to reign over the process, a contingent from Cather told board members they opposed plans to move Cather into Beidler. They were informed instead, for the first time, that Beidler’s 400 kids were moving into Cather, a school with only 200 students but stronger test scores. Then they said they didn’t like that idea, either.

“We want to be able to grow as Cather,’’ said Cather local school council chair Freida Dunna. “We don’t want to be combined. We don’t know what we’re getting. We don’t want our scores to plunge....

“This rocks the boat, It tips it over,’’ Dunna said. “That’s not fair.’’

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