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Boos and hisses at Chicago Public Schools public meeting

Tim Cawley CPS chief operating officer Monday April 18 2011 during press conference Kelly High School. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Tim Cawley, CPS chief operating officer, Monday, April 18, 2011 during a press conference at Kelly High School. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 13, 2012 2:09PM



Plans to “stand tall’’ on controversial charter schools and invest an extra $76 million in them while draining Chicago Public School reserves down to zero drew boos and hisses Wednesday at one of three public hearings on the system’s proposed $5.7 billion budget.

Cries of “Why?” and “For the 1 percent!” greeted CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley as he outlined plans to expand the system’s investment in charters, which receive public dollars but are allowed many of the freedoms of private schools. Boos and hisses also filled the auditorium at Malcolm X City College.

Cawley insisted that charters must be effective because “they have waiting lines’’ and 12 percent of the student population chooses to go to them.

However, CTU researcher Sarah Haines questioned how many charters really had waiting lines as CPS documents indicate that charter enrollment was “lower than projected’’ this year.

The plan to increase total spending on charters to nearly $500 million “is a plan to just give schools away to private operators because you apparently don’t know what to do,’’ said CTU organizer Noreen Gutekanst. “Well, we educators know what to do.’’

Gutekanst called for lower class size, especially in the early grades, and reading specialists to work with the system’s youngest, struggling readers.

CPS social worker Susan Hickey contended CPS social workers have to go into charter schools to provide services, upping their caseload. As a result, Hickey said, she serves 120 students in three different schools. Charter schools “have the money to pay for their own’’ social workers but do not, Hickey said.

Also under attack was the system’s plan to drain its $349 million unrestricted reserve fund down to zero to help plug a $665 million deficit. The Civic Federation has called the plan a prelude to “catastrophe’’ as CPS predicts an even bigger deficit, of $1 billion, a year from now.

Rod Estevan of Access Living also ripped into the reserve raid idea, noting that the last time the system drew its reserves down to zero, in 1979, it wound up in the hands of a financial oversight panel.

“We’ll deal with the future in the future but it does not make sense to inflict more pain in the present’’ by not using the reserves, Cawley said.

The budget, due for a school board vote later this month, also proposes $144 million in cuts and generates $62 million in revenues by raising property taxes for schools to the maximum allowed by law.

It also gives everyone — from teachers to top central office staff to principals — a two percent pay raise, at a cost of $50 million. District officials cautioned that the final decision on raises will depend on the outcome of pending Chicago Teachers Union contract talks. 

However, one CPS high school teacher, Becca Bor, said she was “insulted’’ by the mere 2 percent raise because “I work my a-- off in school and I’m not compensated for a lot of time now.’’ CPS is making the teacher school day even longer next year.

Before the hearing, Wendy Katten of the parent group Raise Your Hands said the budget seemed to reflect a “disinvestment in neighborhood schools” at the expense of charters. Her neighborhood school, Amundsen, lost 13.5 positions and $1.5 million in funding, Katten said.

CPS online data indicated that CPS schools, excluding charters and those run by the not-for-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership, stood to lose 290 positions and $137.7 million in funding. AUSL schools were due to gain 129 positions and lose nearly $3 million in funding.



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