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Editorial: CPS savings add up, but impact modest

Updated: May 9, 2013 6:12AM

How real are the financial savings projected from the closing of 54 Chicago public schools this summer?

Pretty real, a close look at the school system’s numbers tells us. CPS has calculated the annual savings fairly conservatively.

So the numbers are real, yes.

Still, the savings will make only a small dent in CPS’ operating budget. Savings worth $43 million annually are up against a $5.1 billion budget. And this year’s savings won’t ease a projected $1 billion deficit; CPS this year will invest two years worth of savings into the schools where kids are to transfer.

We dove into the numbers deeply because saving money, along with using scarce resources wisely, has long been the primary reason cited by the mayor and the school’s chief for the closings. More recently, they’ve also focused on moving every child from a closed school to a better one academically — the right move, even if it’s not clear that will happen in every proposed consolidation. The shift also is likely motivated by the relatively modest savings.

Operating savings: $43 million Most savings will come from the laying off or retirements of about 400 principals, clerks, counselors, custodians and other staff. This is likely a conservative figure since it includes no teacher layoffs. Well-rated, tenured teachers are guaranteed a position at the school where their students are transferring if one exists. But we are concerned that welcoming schools will need extra counselors, clerks and lunchroom staff to handle the new students. The schools won’t get extra custodians. CPS is “pretty confident” current staff can do the job.

Capital savings: $56 million This “capital avoidance” figure — money CPS won’t have to spend to maintain aging buildings — is the area of greatest potential savings. In picking 54 schools and 61 buildings to close, CPS is targeting some of its biggest money pits. These buildings represent about 10 percent of CPS’ stock but, if left open, they would consume about one-third of CPS’ $1.5 billion capital budget over the next decade, CPS says. That 10-year budget is mostly for basic repairs, such as leaky roofs, but also includes air conditioning units in every classroom and playgrounds.

Notably, CPS didn’t project revenue from the sale of any closed buildings. It hopes to sell many but knows that is no easy task.

Receiving schools get $233 million: Some $155 million of this will go to upgrade the 55 schools — new spending on top of CPS’ existing capital budget. Some schools already have the items CPS is promising, such as libraries, but there will be significant upgrades. Some 43 welcoming schools, for example, will get science labs vs. 27 at the closing schools. Likewise, all will have computer labs vs. 39 at the closing schools.

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