First CPS closes some Austin schools. Now, those that remain are facing the district’s budget ax.
The Chicago Public Schools’ new fiscal year budget, which was voted on by the Chicago Board of Education Wednesday, greatly impacts schools on the West Side. The cuts amount to about $15 million for the Austin-North Lawndale Elementary Network, according to CPS’s FY 2014 budget.
Ella Flagg Young Elementary School is one of 68 elementary schools citywide losing funding for art. Ronald E. McNair Elementary School lost librarian positions, according to advocacy group Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education.
“We [CPS] don’t like making these moves, but this is a budget of necessity,” said CPS spokesperson David Miranda.
Four Austin schools were closed last spring. Two Austin schools expected to receive those displaced kids — George Leland Elementary School and Edward K. Ellington Elementary — will see budget increases. The hikes are nearly doubled from last year —from $2.3 million to $5.3 million at Leland, and $3.6 million to $6.4 million for Ellington. Another welcoming school, Oscar DePriest Elementary School, will see its budget rise from $5.2 million to $6.3 million.
That’s because this is the first year CPS is using per-pupil budgeting, and welcoming schools will see an increase in students, Miranda said.
Elementary schools get around $4,000 per-student, according to CPS.
Francis Scott Key Elementary, Horatio May Elementary Community Academy, Louis Armstrong Math & Science Elementary and Robert Emmet Elementary were closed in June.
District-wide, welcoming schools are scheduled to see a $155 million investment, according to CPS, which includes air conditioning, libraries and iPads for all students. The money for these projects comes from the capital budget, rather than the individual school budgets, Miranda said.
But Dwayne Truss, an organizer for Raise Your Hand, argues that those upgrades don’t matter because Austin’s welcoming schools are still seeing cuts of nearly $300,000. Those cuts, Truss said, are in support services — libraries, lunchrooms, bus aides for special education students, and curriculum development.
Miranda, however, says it may look like schools are losing money but its actually being redistributed, such as the increase in dollars for welcoming schools.
CPS’ budget is broken down by department rather than school, so exactly how much funding is going to individual schools can’t be easily tracked. CPS officials maintain that different funds come from different sources. It’s not done, they insist, to cause confusion. But officials could not provide a further breakdown of those funds.
“It’s double-speak,” Truss said. “[CPS] creates confusion, and people have to do a ton of research to figure out what’s what.”
David Stovall, an educational policies professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, agrees. “Dubious” is how Stovall described CPS’ handling of budget questions.
“[CPS] claims the funds are allocated, but it all seems to be up in the air. This hamster wheel stuff is indicative of a district in chaos, Stovall said, adding that principals at the local level are much more transparent with their individual budgets.
“There should be transparency across all levels, and it doesn’t seem to be that way, especially in [CPS’s] central office,” Stovall said.
He also takes issue with the per-student funding model, which is being used by CPS for the first time this year. According to Stovall, per-student allotment won’t necessarily give the schools what they need, because the resource demands for students with special needs are higher.
Some community activists want more local input into the budget process. The newly-formed “Common Sense: Coalition of LSCs for Fair Funding” is among them.
LSCs, short for Local School Councils are comprised of elected teachers, community members and students from individual schools. Under state law, LSCs are required to vote on their school’s budget. But some LSCs are inactive or don’t have enough members to vote.
At least three LSCs in Austin aren’t scheduled to meet until after the Chicago Board of Education votes Aug. 28 on the current budget.
Melinda Stapleton is a special education teacher and LSC member at Austin’s John Hay Community Academy School, which is losing around $250,000 this year. Her LSC had to call a special meeting in June — on a week’s notice — to vote on their budget.
“Our principal is proactive, so we were ready, but the hardest part was seeing this was all we had to work with,” said Stapleton, who’s taught at Hay for 24 years. “We had to decide if we were going to have books or staff, and it should never be a decision like that. It should be all about the kids.”