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Whitney Young may charge kids $500 for class

Students protest proposed budget cuts outside Burley Elementary.  |  Alex wroblewski~sun-times media

Students protest proposed budget cuts outside Burley Elementary. | Alex wroblewski~sun-times media

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Updated: July 22, 2013 7:12PM

Students who want to take a 7th period class at Whitney Young High School may have to ante up an extra $500 next year.

This proposal, outlined in a letter to parents from the school’s principal, demonstrates that even high-achieving, selective enrollment schools will not escape the budget ax wielded by the Chicago Public Schools central office.

Meanwhile at Burley Elementary, one of the city’s top-scoring neighborhood schools, parents and teachers gathered to protest elimination of all art programming and cuts to English, reading, technology and physical education programs.

“Our mayor talked about a full school day in terms of a broad curriculum,” parent Amy Smolensky said, referring to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s extended school day that was implemented this year. “With these cuts, the school day is going to be an empty day, not a full day,” Smolensky said.

She said her middle-class North Side neighborhood has bought into the idea of sending children to quality neighborhood schools, but now “I would guess that people are going to think twice.”

CPS has refused to release details of individual school budget cuts to the media but has sent them to principals, requiring the administrators and local school councils to come up ways to make the savings. More details are emerging every day as local school councils vote on how the cuts will be implemented.

Education advocacy group Raise Your Hand estimates $45 million in cuts have been made so far, with reports from only 10 percent of schools.

At Whitney Young, which consistently ranks among the best high schools in the state, all students currently can take up to seven periods of classes. Under the cuts, they would only be allowed to take six, unless they pay extra.

Students will able meet the requirements for graduation without the extra period.

Principal Joyce Kenner said that on top of the possible charges for 7th period, cuts will include: the school’s writing center; 10 teaching or staff positions; cuts to electives in foreign languages, art, music and business; and cuts to ACT test prep classes.

Audrey Pettigrew, 13, a student in Whitney Young’s program for seventh- and eighth-graders, will miss the writing program, saying, “It helps you get better grades.”

Pettigrew intends to go on to the high school and said her family would pay for the extra class period if necessary.

“But I think that’s kind of stupid, because public schools are supposed to be for everyone, and everyone should have access to the same options.”

Lake View High School principal Lillith Werner told her Local School Council that “CPS put her between a rock and a hard place,” said LSC member Jackie Rosa. “She made it clear that the principals don’t have autonomy,” Rosa said. “They’re given this dismal budget and they’re told to work with it.”

At Lake View, a neighborhood high school in CPS’ top performing Level 1 category, the budget was sliced from $9.2 million to $7.7 million. It will mean no new textbooks and 14 teachers laid off.

On top of that, Rosa said, all schools are now forced to pay for toilet paper and maintenance supplies, items that used to be covered by the central office.

CPS issued a statement saying it has cut central office spending by nearly $600 million since 2011 and is eliminating another $52 million next year. “We will continue to do everything possible to protect investments in our classrooms to reduce the historic $1 billion deficit facing the District next year.”

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