Austin schools will enter another year with fewer teachers and support staff amid other uncertainties caused by the ongoing school funding battle in Springfield. And black teachers and children with special needs will be among the hardest hit, West Side education advocates say.
According to the school-by-school list released earlier this month by Chicago Public Schools, 16 out of 19 Austin neighborhood schools will lose teachers, classroom assistants and/or security staff in the upcoming school year.
In all, Austin schools will see 47 layoffs (21 teachers and 26 support personnel) by Sept. 5, when classes start.
“These are teacher assistants, school clerks, and they are overwhelmingly black women who more than likely live in the community which they serve,” said Brandon Johnson, an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union and Austin resident.
“The mayor’s budget once again reflects his effort to remove the last good paying opportunities for black people to exist in Chicago,” Johnson said.
The presence of adults in classrooms and school buildings is essential to maintain a dynamic environment for students, Johnson said; removing them is going to have a “tremendous negative impact on the security and culture of that building.”
And as for the teachers being laid off, Johnson said: “The students may be looking forward to having that teacher the next year; and maybe their sister and brother had that teacher.”
Joseph Lovett will see the biggest staffing cuts on the West Side, with three teachers and four support staffers laid off and an overall funding loss of 9 percent, while Ellington Elementary will lose five teachers and one support staffer due to an 8 percent budget cut.
Both Lovett and Ellington are top-rated schools in CPS.
Douglass Academy, whose budget was reduced by almost 20 percent, is expected to lose three teachers.
Spencer Elementary will lose five personnel — one teacher and four support staff, including a security guard and a paraprofessional who provides technological support, said Austin resident Jeffery Blackwell, a 19-year diverse learners teacher at Spencer.
“These persons have been at the school for a long [time],” Blackwell said, calling the cuts discouraging.
“We need a lot of support staff to help our kids get the opportunities that they need,” he said. “But it’s just hard with all of the politics and the budget cuts going on. I don’t know how we are gonna pick up the slack.”
The only three Austin schools spared from teacher and staffer loss are Howe Elementary School, Catalyst Circle Rock and Plato Learning Academy.
Citywide, CPS is expected to lay off 956 school staffers, including 356 teachers and 600 school-based support personnel.
“While this process occurs every year due to the natural movement of students, programmatic changes and shifting student needs, there are fewer teacher layoffs this year than any year since at least 2007,” CPS spokesman Michael Passman said in a statement.
District-wide, CPS will lay off 2 percent of its teachers and 6 percent of its support personnel following a $43 million funding reduction compared to last year.
The school layoffs will hurt Austin’s already struggling economy, union official Johnson said; the area has about a 30 percent unemployment rate.
“A support staff person loses her job, that’s now one less black person working in Austin,” he said.
State and city leaders aren’t helping make the situation better but exacerbating the funding crisis, advocates say.
“The governor is heartless, and he’s using the poor children for his political ideology,” said Dwayne Truss, a longtime West Side education advocate and adviser to Raise Your Hand. “He has no desire to educate poor black and brown children. Period.”
The school funding formula that Gov. Bruce Rauner is pushing will further destabilize CPS’ already underfunded and inequitable system, Truss said.
Part of his plan is a tax credit scholarship program, labeled a voucher plan by its opponents. It would give individuals or businesses tax credits for donations they make to private schools that charge tuition, according to Raise Your Hand.
That would mean more tax revenue being diverted to private institutions from public schools, Truss said.
“We need additional, consistent funding, so our schools are going to sustain,” he said. “It’s not enough for our schools to operate without music and art teachers and librarians.”
The budget crisis has also caused the average class sizes to climb higher over the past few years, with one-third of the K-2 classrooms having more than 29 students last year, according to the CTU.
To the West Side in particular, the CPS budget cuts mean significant loss to special education, Truss added.
“Schools like DePriest are going to lose special education staff,” Truss said, noting schools are already struggling to serve special needs students with the few support staff they have.”