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CPS officials take heat on budget cuts at public hearing

Chicago Public School officials Matt Walters (left) senior budget analyst; Greg Volan budget manager for schools; Jennie Huang-Barrett treasurer Peter

Chicago Public School officials Matt Walters (left), senior budget analyst; Greg Volan, budget manager for schools; Jennie Huang-Barrett, treasurer, and Peter Rogers, chief financial officer, field questions about CPS budget cuts at a public hearing Thursday night at Kennedy-King College. | Mitch Dudek~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 3, 2013 7:57AM

Heated comments at a public hearing on Chicago Public Schools budget cuts Thursday night ranged from an angry calls to abolish the school board to requests to divert tax-increment financing money to help pay for education.

Proposed budget cuts for the coming year include $68 million to classroom spending. Thousands of CPS teachers and support staff have received pink slips in recent months.

About 75 people attended the meeting at Kennedy-King College in the Englewood neighborhood. A four-person panel of CPS officials on hand to field questions included Treasurer Jennie Huang-Barrett and CFO Peter Rogers, who gave a dire budget address before opening the microphone to anyone who had signed up to speak.

Byron Sigcho, 30, of Pilsen, took issue with Rogers’ use of the word “seats” to describe the number of children who would occupy them in each school.

“When you yourself refer to our children as seats, it’s hard to believe that you think of our children more than seats and of our communities more than spreadsheets,” he said.

Sigcho, a grad student at University of Illinois at Chicago, continued to vent.

“You’re really proposing that our children take P.E. and art classes online? To me that’s a joke. That’s not investing in our youth. . . . Why does CPS keep funding corrupt charter networks?” he said, referring to the UNO Charter Schools.

In response, Rogers thanked Sigcho for pointing out his “insensitive” use of the word “seats.” He then passed the mic to his colleagues to field other parts of Sigcho’s inquiries.

CPS spokesman Greg Volan spoke about charter schools.

“We fund charter schools to provide a variety of educational opportunities to students and families in different neighborhoods and they are funded to the extent that students go there and parents send there children. So if we open the charter schools and they’re not good schools and students don’t go there, they’re not going to be funded,” said Volan, referring to a new school budgeting model that allots a fixed amount of money to each school for each student enrolled there.

Volan’s comments spurred off-the-cuff remarks from audience members that included: “Parents don’t want choice, they want stability, choice is a marketing tool!” and “We don’t want our children experimented on!”

Others who signed up to speak in two-minute allotted increments railed on Mayor Rahm Emanuel for earmarking TIF money to help build a new basketball arena for DePaul University. Others wanted an end to sweetheart tax breaks given to large corporations.

One man said he planned to make it his life’s mission to eradicate the Chicago Public Schools board.

The red piece of paper one CPS official held in the air to indicate a speaker’s allotted time had come to an end was often ignored.

The meeting was one of three CPS scheduled to garner public feedback before finalizing a $5.6 billion budget that drained reserves to offset a giant jump in teacher pension obligations. Two meetings were Thursday night. A third one is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at Malcolm X College.

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