Douglass Academy High School will be open this fall, but its long-term fate remains uncertain.
While its enrollment continues to decline, it is expected to receive more than 100 students—enough to keep it open for at least another school year. But beyond that, its future will depend on how many students will actually wind up staying enrolled, which Chicago Public Schools won’t know until later this fall.
There is also the question of funding. Because its enrollment declined, its budget has been cut. If Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner vetoes the portion of this year’s education funding and the Illinois General Assembly fails to override it, Douglass may get even less than that.
Douglass High School started out as a middle school, but it was converted into a high school in 2007, as part of the Renaissance 2010 plan. As part of the same plan, Austin High School was closed and its campus became home VOISE Academy magnet school and two charter schools—Austin Polytechnical Academy and Austin Entrepreneurship & Business Academy.
Over the last few years, Douglass saw continuous drops in enrollment. In 2015, the Austin Community Action Council, an organization made up on community members, CPS teachers and staff, and parents, proposed turning Austin High School back into a neighborhood school and keeping Douglass High School open so long as its enrollment doesn’t dip below 270. Since then, CPS approved the first part of the plan, and Douglass’ enrollment threshold was lowered to 100.
During the 2016-2017 school year, the school had 151 students. According to the 2017-2018 school budgets, Douglass is expected to have 132 students – enough for it to say open this year. And because CPS bases each school’s budget on the number of the students expected to attend, Douglass is getting $1,574,190—$374,142 less than last school year.
Long-time Austin community activist Cata Truss, whose husband, Dwayne Truss, sits on the Austin Community Action Council, said that she isn’t sure what would happen beyond that.
“Right now, they are still trying to get the students they need,” she said. “They won’t really know until November.”
Because CPS makes school budgets based on the number of the students expected to attend, Douglass is getting $1,574,190 – $374,142 less than last school year.
CPS developed school budgets with the assumption that Illinois will pass Senate Bill 1, which creates a new funding formula for all school districts in the state. It would give the district more funding for regular education expenses, as well as $220 million to help the district cover its pension obligations.
The state of Illinois covers the school district portion of the pension obligations for every school district in the state except CPS. In spite of that, Rauner threatened to use his amendatory veto power to remove that portion of SB1.
When a governor makes an amendatory veto, the Illinois General Assembly has 15 days to either override the veto, approve the amended version or do nothing, which would automatically kill the bill. Because the recently approved Illinois state budget requires for SB1 or some other “evidence-based education funding formula” to be in place in order for schools to get any state funding, the bill’s death could mean that CPS and other schools won’t get any state funding whatsoever.
For the past two months, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (6th) has refused to send SB1 to Rauner. On July 28, he announced that he would send the bill to the governor on July 31.
This newspaper asked CPS whether the district has any back-up plan in the event Rauner makes the amendatory veto and the General Assembly fails to override it. In response, the district sent out a statement by CPS spokesperson Emily Bittner. It didn’t address the question directly, simply saying that CPS urged Rauner to sign SB1 as it is.
“Illinois is last in the nation in education funding, and Senate Bill 1 reforms a broken system by giving 268 school districts more per pupil funding than Chicago,” Bittner stated. “That’s why superintendents across the state support it.”
In a July 20 statement, CPS indicated that it plans to open on time regardless of what happens with SB1, something that Bittner reiterated in her statement.
“[Rauner’s] obsession with punishing Chicago’s minority students is jeopardizing the opening of schools throughout Illinois, but he will not succeed in closing the doors at CPS,” she stated.
Neither statement elaborated on where CPS would get funds to make that happen.
Austin Weekly News reached out to Dr. Abdul Muhammad, the school’s recently appointed interim principal, to see how the budget reduction would affect the school. He did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.