Austin schools brace for budget cuts

The overwhelming majority of Austin public schools will see funding cuts due to declining enrollments

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XUEER ZHANG

AustinTalks

Austin schools are taking a big financial hit in CPS' new budget, along with many other South and West side schools, worrying community activists, residents and the teachers union.
 
According to the school-by-school budget just released, 15 out of 19 Austin neighborhood schools will see funding cuts. Most must contend with even bigger cuts than last year because schools continue to lose students, with Douglass High School topping the list with an almost 20 percent funding slash – the 11th largest among all public schools across Chicago.
 
"While investments are taking place in the mayor's wards, the Austin community is under attack," said Austin resident Brandon Johnson, an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union who used to teach at Westinghouse College Prep High School.
 
"This is horrifying for families that are raising their children in Austin," Johnson said, adding West Side schools have experienced decreases in funding over the last seven years.
 
"We are talking about schools that already don't have nurses, counselors and librarians; schools that have class sizes that are already too large," Johnson said.
 
The chronic understaffing has caused Austin children to lose out when it comes to education in music and world language, he said.
 
In all, CPS plans to allocate a total of $2.281 billion in federal funds to more than 660 schools for the school year that begins in September—a $43 million decrease compared to 2017. The cuts are caused by a citywide student population decline, which the CPS projected to be about 8,000 for the next school year.
 
For the 19 schools in Austin, the total student loss is projected to be 550—one of the largest declines across the city, Johnson said.
 
"Austin is expected to lose 5 percent of students," he said, adding the citywide decline is around 2 percent.
 
This is the fourth year that CPS has used a student-based budgeting model. Schools with fewer students will see their resources diverted to other schools, meaning less money for teachers, staff and curriculum materials, said Dwayne Truss, a longtime Austin resident and advocate for West Side schools.
 
"You lose 10 students, you lose a teacher," Truss said, noting that amounts to a $20,000 to $50,000 reduction.
 
More than half of the 19 Austin schools will see a loss in students that exceeds 30.
 
"The way CPS funds our schools hurts our kids," Truss said, adding Austin has been losing families because the West Side doesn't have resources like schools in Lincoln Park and other well-to-do Chicago neighborhoods.
 
The student loss is also partly due to the expansion in recent years of charter schools in Austin, Truss said.
 
"Charter schools are pulling kids away from regular neighborhood schools, which impacts their budgets," Truss said. "It's not a way to run an education system because you beat on each other."
 
Austin neighborhood schools deserve sufficient funding, Truss said, as many of them are out-performing charter schools.
 
"We have Nash, Lovett and Ellington who perform at level 1," he said.
 
All of the three highly rated schools will get less funding next school year. Ellington will see its budget cut by 8 percent, while Nash and Lovett will each be cut by 9 percent.
 
"Every child in Austin should have access to a fully resourced and staffed, publicly funded neighborhood school that the parents can walk them to," Johnson said. "That's not an unrealistic expectation."
 
Despite the overall budget shortfall, per student funding is increasing over last year. For elementary students in grades four to eight, it's $4,290 per student; for high school students it's $5,320; and children in kindergarten to third grade, it's $4,590. The increase is intended to address rising personnel costs—the bulk of any school budget.
 
CPS' financial crisis, primarily caused by the shortfall in teacher pensions and exacerbated by the two-year state budget impasse, has created a trend of disinvestment in Chicago's predominantly African-American West and South side neighborhoods, said one education expert.
 
"CPS hasn't figured out a way pay into the pension fund, and they are hemorrhaging funds," said David Omotoso Stovall, a professor of educational policy studies and African-American studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "It's a serious issue."
 
As CPS struggles to fund schools, state lawmakers are pushing for a new bill that would inject an extra $300 million of funding into the state's largest school system.
 
Although Senate Bill 1, which includes a new "evidence-based" model backed by both Democrats and Republicans, won approval in the Illinois General Assembly in late May, it was vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner on Aug. 1. 
 
The new model, which is supported by both state Rep. La Shawn Ford and state Rep. Camille Lilly, would direct more state funding to the district, but not necessarily allocate more money to schools that have the most need, Stovall said.
 
"The issue is how those funds would be distributed," he said. "Schools that historically have the least will still be guaranteed less."
 
SB1 is not enough for Chicago and Austin neighborhood schools, Johnson said. The Chicago Teachers Union is pushing Mayor Rahm Emanuel to take action—either by allocating a portion of the Tax Increment Finance surplus to schools, or reinstating the corporate head tax the mayor ended after taking office in 2011.
 
"The mayor's gotta put some local money in for the stability of our schools," Johnson said, adding there is hundreds of millions of dollars in TIF funding that should "go to the schools instead of Navy Pier."
 
Local school councils, then the Chicago Board of Education, must approve the CPS budget well before Sept. 5, when classes are set to begin.
 
That means principals will have to make very difficult decisions and consider the magnitude of the cuts, Johnson said.
 
"It's unfair that the principals have to figure out whether or not they're going to have a teacher, a school clerk or a copy machine," he said, adding that for too long Austin residents keep "being asked to figure it out."
 
Truss agreed, adding Austin schools need more support.
 
"We've got committed teachers and principals who are trying to do the best with very little," he said. "They are doing a very good and passionate job."
 
For a breakdown of budget information for each of Austin school, visit austintalks.org
 

 
Milton Brunson Special Elementary
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 477
• FY 17 Enrollment: 437
• Percent Change: -8.4%
• FY 16 Budget: $3,524,442
• FY 17 Budget: $3,516,925
• Change: – $7,516 (-0.21%)
 
Michele Clark Magnet High School
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 548
• FY 17 Enrollment: 561
• Percent Change: 2.4%
• FY 16 Budget: $5,098,726
• FY 17 Budget: $5,016,901
• Change: – $81,826 (-1.6%)
 
Oscar DePriest Elementary School
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 554
• FY 17 Enrollment: 525
• Percent Change: -5.2%
• FY 16 Budget: $5,278,708
• FY 17 Budget: $5,136,052
• Change: – $142,656 (-2.7%)
 
Frederick Douglass Academy HS
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 175
• FY 17 Enrollment: 132
• Percent Change: -24.6%
• FY 16 Budget: $1,948,331
• FY 17 Budget: $1,574,190
• Change: – $374,142 (-19.2%)
 
Edward K. Duke Ellington Elementary School
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 546
• FY 17 Enrollment: 521
• Percent Change: -4.6%
• FY 16 Budget: $5,063,971
• FY 17 Budget: $4,652,207
• Change: – $411,764 (-8.13%)
 
John Hay Community Academy School
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 356
• FY 17 Enrollment: 314
• Percent Change: -11.8%
• FY 16 Budget: $2,589,105
• FY 17 Budget: $2,321,401
• Change: – $267,704 (-10.34%)
 
George Leland Elementary School
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 436
• FY 17 Enrollment: 395
• Percent Change: -9.4%
• FY 16 Budget: $4,107,390
• FY 17 Budget: $3,747,295
• Change: – $360,094 (-8.77%)
 
Joseph Lovett Elementary School
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 355
• FY 17 Enrollment: 328
• Percent Change: -7.6%
• FY 16 Budget: $2,673,817
• FY 17 Budget: $2,413,139
• Change: – $260,677 (-9.75%)
 
Ronald E McNair Elementary School
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 382
• FY 17 Enrollment: 379
• Percent Change: -0.8%
• FY 16 Budget: $3,920,418
• FY 17 Budget: $4,056,970
• Change: $136,553 (3.48%)
 
Nash Elementary School
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 304
• FY 17 Enrollment: 270
• Percent Change: -11.2%
• FY 16 Budget: $2,124,373
• FY 17 Budget: $1,925,138
• Change: -$199,236 (-9.38%)
 
Sayre Elem Language Academy
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 419
• FY 17 Enrollment: 384
• Percent Change: -8.4%
• FY 16 Budget: $2,912,400
• FY 17 Budget: $2,900,523
• Change: -$11,878 (-0.41%)
 
Herbert Spencer Math and Science Academy
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 634
• FY 17 Enrollment: 578
• Percent Change: -8.8%
• FY 16 Budget: $5,136,705
• FY 17 Budget: $4,849,450
• Change: -$287,255 (-5.59%)
 
Voise High School (Austin Business and Entrepreneurship and Austin Polytechnical)
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 304
• FY 17 Enrollment: 232
• Percent Change: -23.7%
• FY 16 Budget: $3,072,744
• FY 17 Budget: $2,758,818
• Change: -$313,926 (-10.22%)
 
Ella Flagg Young Elementary School
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 832
• FY 17 Enrollment: 758
• Percent Change: -8.9%
• FY 16 Budget: $6,416,700
• FY 17 Budget: $6,048,645
• Change: -$368,054 (-5.74%)
 
Catalyst Circle Rock
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 522
• FY 17 Enrollment: 524
• Percent Change: 0.4%
• FY 16 Budget: $3,819,633
• FY 17 Budget: $3,916,582
• Change: $96,949 (2.54%)
 
Plato Learning Academy
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 448
• FY 17 Enrollment: 454
• Percent Change: 1.3%
• FY 16 Budget: $3,153,281
• FY 17 Budget: $3,303,719
• Change: $150,438 (4.77%)
 
George Rogers Clark Elementary School
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 224
• FY 17 Enrollment: 215
• Percent Change: -4.0%
• FY 16 Budget: $2,062,982
• FY 17 Budget: $1,818,142
• Change: -$244,840 (-11.87%)
 
Leslie Lewis Elementary School
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 437
• FY 17 Enrollment: 416
• Percent Change: -4.8%
• FY 16 Budget: $3,175,545
• FY 17 Budget: $3,071,580
• Change: -$103,965 (-3.27%)
 
Howe Elementary School
 
• FY 16 Enrollment: 459
• FY 17 Enrollment: 439
• Percent Change: -4.4%
• FY 16 Budget: $3,312,454
• FY 17 Budget: $3,349,200
• Change: $36,746 (1.11%)
 
CONTACT: austintalks.org@gmail.com  

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