The Chicago Public Schools will lay off 550 teachers and 600 non-teachers “due to enrollment declines at some schools,” the district announced last Thursday. The mass layoffs come one year after CPS introduced its new Student Based Budgeting (SBB) system, which allocates funding to schools on a per-pupil basis, instead of on the quota formulas that were used to allocate funding in the past. 

According to CPS, “SBB empowers principals, giving them the autonomy to use their SBB dollars to build an instructional program that meets the needs of their schools. … SBB also provides a unified funding formula that applies to both district and charter/contract schools, ensuring that funding is fair and equitable.”

To some of the district’s critics, however, the SBB funding formula and the CPS’s funding priorities in general are sophisticated ways of reallocating dollars and resources away from traditional public schools and toward charter schools. 

“The decision by the mayor and his handpicked Board of Education to lay off 1,150 teachers and school support staff today in yet another brutal attack on public education in Chicago is bitterly disappointing and an example of the continued destruction and decimation of neighborhood schools,” Chicago Teachers Union’s Karen Lewis said.

“In a little over a year, CPS student-based budgeting has led to the removal of close to 5,000 teachers, teacher assistants, librarians, paraprofessionals and school-related personnel (PSRPs), technology coordinators and instructional aides from classrooms as severe cuts cause principals to make the difficult decisions that the district cannot,” she said.

In a statement released in the wake of the CPS announcement, the Chicago City Progressive Caucus urged the district to re-evaluate its priorities. 

“We as a city and CPS as a system must get our priorities straight. It’s unacceptable that we are laying off teachers in already understaffed schools while at the same time offering tax breaks for billionaires and big corporations. And no CPS teachers should be laid off while taxpayer dollars pour into new, privately-operated charter schools all across the city,” the statement read.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett noted that, while some schools may experience layoffs, there would be another 1,780 teaching vacancies, 1,420 of which are full-time. In a fact sheet, CPS claimed that historically, more than 60 percent of displaced teachers have found positions someplace else in the district.

In the summer after the 2011-12 school year, according to CPS data, the district rehired 62 percent of teachers who were laid off. Last summer, it rehired 68 percent of “impacted” teachers, with nearly 80 percent of teachers let go due to school consolidations being rehired. 

However, this may not serve as sufficient consolation for the roughly one-third of district-run schools that will experience permanent staff reductions. CPS has not identified the specific schools and communities that will be affected by these layoffs, but evaluating area enrollment projections and underutilization rates may provide a rough indication.

According to the district’s Educational Facilities Master Plan, the Austin community had an overall utilization rate of 67 percent as of the 10th day of the 2013-14 school year. This means that, taken together, Austin’s school facilities are not being used to capacity, a reality that may be driven by a number of factors, one being under-enrollment.

Since the district’s new SBB funding model allocates money to schools on a per-pupil basis, a school’s total number of students is an important factor in the amount of money and resources it receives. That may be a harrowing notion for traditional public schools in general, and schools serving areas such as Austin, where enrollment levels have either flat-lined or declined. 

Based on U.S. Census forecasts, the CPS projects the Austin community to experience a decline in the number of school-age children between 2012 and 2017. While the area’s 0- to 14-year-old population is projected to be more or less stable, the 15- to 19-year-old population is expected to decline by 4.2 percent. 

According to the text of a bill introduced by state Rep. LaShawn K. Ford (D-8th), which calls for $60 million to construct a new selective enrollment school in Austin, the three smaller high schools that replaced Austin Community Academy High School have a total attendance of about 1,000 students, compared to the 6,000 that Austin Community Academy held before it was closed in 2007. 

At an Austin-North Lawndale Network meeting last year, CPS reported that it had space for 511,000 students, but only 403,000 were enrolled. It also said that since 2000, Chicago’s school-age population has declined by 145,000. 

But while CPS projects enrollment levels at traditional district schools to decrease by about 1 percent between fiscal years 2014 and ’15, the enrollment levels at charter schools are projected to climb by nearly 5 percent. The way the SBB model works, this disparity in enrollment levels may also translate into a potential disparity in funding.