Stock Cuts and Bonds: Chicago Struggles to Fund Schools

Chicago Public Schools recently asserted — again — that there was a way to "improve" community schools, cut budgets, $52 million dollars worth. The decision to eliminate administrative and operational expenses is touted as a means to help close an estimated $1 billion deficit, just as school closures were supposed to do.

 

The earlier claim proved itself untrue. Chicago Public Schools acknowledges that closing 50 schools will not reduce this year's budget deficit — the savings, plus tens of millions of additional dollars (for a total of $233 million), will be put into receiving schools this year. The issue of new bonds valued at $300 million is expected to help pay for improvements.  "The Chicago Public Schools bond rating is something of concern," said Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation, "and it's something that the bonding agencies have warned them [CPS.]"  Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley addressed this on a telephone briefing call with reporters on March 21:

We've assumed that we'll have to spend in this first year an investment that we'll make back over time with the savings that we'll realize both in operating savings and cost avoidance of capital investment at these closing schools. So that's the way we're looking at it.

Cawley's long-view however was a bit shortsighted. Students and their schools were short-changed and, once again, our youth and their communities slighted.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have worked to reassure the community. "Chicago principals are given greater flexibility," and also less money, to finance programs in their schools. That is the greater concern, as is the pattern of obfuscation.

Chicago parents protest, saying this is the newest way to destabilize neighborhood schools. First, the decision to close 50 schools was announced on the premise that this would save the District bundles of money. Since that proved untrue, now we have the more drastic measures. The per pupil funding of school budgets is slashed. So what next? The answer was on display this Monday, June 17, 2013.

Local School Council members call for Attorney General Lisa Madigan to audit CPS finances. It is important to note that the LSC members help principals make financial decisions for schools, and thus have ample information about the working of the schools. With this knowledge, representatives from a dozen Chicago Public Schools debunked the myths, offered a reality check, and stated that they would not sign-off on the school budgets. 

After closing 50 schools less than a month ago, the Chicago Public Schools instituted a per pupil funding formula which will force most schools to reduce the number of educators they hire. Ostensibly, this change is directed at giving principals and Local School Councils more autonomy. In actuality, the net effect is huge budget cuts. Creating another way to disinvest in vital neighborhood schools.

For several years, CPS has repeatedly and loudly proclaimed a large budget deficit. Yet each year, when all was said and done, surpluses were recorded. For this reason, Local School Council members called for AG Lisa Madigan to audit CPS finances yesterday morning.

We are asking for forensic audit of CPS declared Jeanette Taylor Smith, a parent member of Jackie Robinson and Mollison LSCs. Cathy Dale (a grandparent member of the local Mollison LSC), along with Local School Council Presidents, called on Governor Quinn to issue an executive order to declare a moratorium on school closures and create an elected school board for Chicago parents.

The persistent attack on the viability of public schools in the black and brown communities of Chicago is at stake. Cuts will cause school councils and principals to consider turning away more experienced teachers in order to save money on salaries. This is the opposite of what is needed to create a strong educational venue that is staffed by educators who understand the community and its children.

 

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Bob George and Betsy L. Angert
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