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Brown: New CPS budgeting formula means real cuts — and pain — at schools

Updated: July 22, 2013 6:39PM

In a grim scene being replicated all across the city, the local school council at Thomas Kelly High School will meet Thursday to approve a budget that cuts $4 million from this year’s $25 million spending.

To accomplish this 18 percent reduction, the principal at Kelly has proposed eliminating 23 of the school’s 183 teaching positions.

In addition, 10 of the Southwest Side school’s 46 staff members — secretaries, clerks, classroom aides and the like — will also lose their jobs.

On top of that, the school will spend 50 percent less on textbooks and on supplies such as toilet paper and sidewalk salt.

Transportation spending — which covers buses for field trips, athletics and other extracurricular activities — will be reduced 70 percent. Equipment spending — for desks, chairs, computers and such — will be slashed 87 percent.

Lost in the continued angst over school closings, many surviving Chicago Public Schools are facing painful budget cuts that may end up eliminating more jobs and disrupting more students than did even the closings.

These cuts coincide with introduction of a new funding formula that CPS officials say is intended to give principals the flexibility to minimize harm to the classroom.

But many of these same principals are reporting back to their local school councils that CPS has reduced funding so much that teacher cuts and other educational impacts are unavoidable.

While a spring budget scare is par for the course at CPS, what’s unusual here is that it isn’t the CPS central office sounding the alarm. In fact, a CPS spokesman continued Wednesday to emphasize the school budgets are only preliminary and that the final numbers will show “very minimal cuts.”

Instead, the hollering is coming from the schools — neighborhood schools in particular — where the actual budget-cutting decisions are being made under the district’s new decentralized system.

Patrick Brosnan, executive director of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, is among those alarmed at what he sees happening to Kelly and other nearby schools — and frustrated that the new budget process makes it more difficult for the public to grasp the scope of the cuts.

“The net for our community is going to be a loss of teachers, a loss of resources,” he said. “It’s a cut that’s going to cut deep. No matter how you slice that pie, it’s 18 percent less money.”

The picture at Kelly is complicated by CPS projecting an enrollment drop for the school of 250 students next year, down from this year’s 2,700. Two new charter high schools are due to open next school year on the Southwest Side.

Brosnan is skeptical that the enrollment drop would have materialized, but believes the crippling of Kelly’s programs could certainly hasten a student departure and make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

While Kelly is a school with many challenges, Brosnan and local school council members say it has been on an upward trajectory with improving test scores, higher attendance and a reduction in serious behavioral incidents.

At nearby Burroughs Elementary School, which feeds into Kelly, local school council members have been told they must cut the budget by $700,000 — to $1.9 million from $2.6 million.

The principal plans to accomplish that by eliminating 2.5 of the school’s 22 teaching positions and two or three staff jobs.

“There’s not going to be a librarian or a nurse,” said Hellen Zaragoza, an LSC member at Burroughs.

Zaragoza also told me the school will no longer have funding for recess monitors. She said she is trying to recruit parents to volunteer. You’ll recall that we went to the longer school day in part to allow for recess,

To make up for the supply situation, all parents will be required to buy three boxes of resealable plastic bags, three packages of napkins and three boxes of facial tissues, she said.

The Chicago Teachers Union has been sounding the alarm on this issue for more than a week now, which I suppose is causing some people to brush it off as union propaganda.

But my read is that these are real cuts that will inflict real pain if they go forward.

As sad as they are, the school closings are a done deal. It’s time to refocus our attention to the schools that survived before they’re on the endangered list, too.

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