Officials from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) had few answers Wednesday night for community residents outraged over devastating district-wide budget cuts that threaten to deprive students of much-needed teachers and resources next year. Progress Illinois was there for the heated meeting.
Officials from Chicago Public Schools (CPS) had few answers Wednesday night for community residents outraged over devastating district-wide budget cuts that threaten to deprive students of much-needed teachers and resources next year.
At a public meeting hosted by the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC), CPS officials heard testimony from parents and local leaders that the proposed budget cuts to schools in Chicago’s Southwest Side neighborhood of Brighton Park will add additional stress to an already blighted community.
“We’re losing a lot of teachers out here, OK? We have students out here, kids who are going to have lower grades because of cuts around these students. We have Kelly High School, who is off of probation, who deserves more than what they got this year,” said Anita Caballero, board president of the BPNC. “So all these parents and I want to know why we’re getting these cuts."
When the CPS representatives, Phillip Hampton, executive director of Family and Community Engagement, and Julio Cesar Contreras, deputy of schools for the Pershing Network, didn’t have a response for Caballero, a chorus of “boos” erupted from the audience of roughly 300.
“I’m not from the budget office,” Hampton responded to Caballero, shortly before the crowd’s negative reaction prompted him to storm out of the meeting.
Both CPS CEO Barbara-Byrd Bennett and Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale declined invitations to the 6:30 p.m. meeting at James Shields Elementary School, at 4250 S. Rockwell St. The BPNC also requested attendance from Alds. George Cardenas (12th) and Ed Burke (14th), the area's alderman and chairman of the Chicago City Council's Finance Committee, respectively.
“We have some very serious, specific questions of how CPS is spending money and how they are deciding which schools are going to be cut,” said Patrick Brosnan, executive director of the BPNC. “We haven’t gotten any answers or any resolution and I think they’re making decisions that show us they don’t want us to succeed.”
Thanks to CPS’ new per-student budgeting, a system that provides funding based on the number of students a school has, principals across the district are contending with proposed budgets that provide far less funding than what they were provided with last year.
Brighton Park’s neighborhood schools are poised to collectively lose nearly $7.5 million. That translates to 45 less teaching positions and the loss of 25 non-teaching staff positions, according to data complied by the BPNC.
Cuts at Thomas Kelly High School, at 4136 South California Ave., could be the worst in the district for the 2013-2014 academic year. The school, which Caballero said has been taken off the district’s probation list because of rising test scores, is slated to lose roughly $4 million, resulting in the loss of 23 teachers and 10 support staff members.
“Why would CPS do this, when they say they care about our kids in our schools,” asked Caballero, whose 18 year-old son graduated from Kelly High last year. “Do they want our kids to succeed? I don’t think so.”
Caballero criticized the district for “bribing” a North Side school with an additional $100,000 in exchange for approving CPS' shrunken budget. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the district is also offering monies from its reserve fund ranging from $35,000 to $100,000 to 134 other schools in an attempt to soften the blow of deep budget cuts.
“Why are they giving money to some schools and not others,” asked Lisa Villanueva, whose two children, ages 10 and 11, attend James Shields Middle School.
Shields Middle School could lose $300,000 under the proposed 2013-2014 budget.
Villanueva, a single mother, said she anticipates the school will have fewer supplies next year because of the district's budget cuts. She added that providing her children with the materials necessary for success, a responsibility that she said should fall on CPS’ shoulders, will be difficult for her and other low-income families in Brighton Park:
The district’s deep budget cuts come as CPS cites a $1 billion deficit. In May, the Chicago Board of Education voted to shutter 50 schools across the city.
Meanwhile, Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia (D-Chicago), who addressed the crowd at Wednesday’s meeting, called for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago City Council to declare a tax increment finance (TIF) surplus as a means of providing additional funds to CPS.
“As long as we continue to rely solely on property taxes to fund our schools, it’s only going to worsen,” he said. “It makes perfect sense to use those funds to address and alleviate the pain of the budget cuts we’re facing right now.”
TIF funds for the city of Chicago could reach $457 million for the 2012 tax year, which is $3.3 million more than in 2011, according to Orr's office.
“These budget cuts are unconscionable,” said Garcia, who added that it was insulting to the Brighton Park community that CPS officials at the meeting couldn’t answer their questions.
The Cook County commissioner was one of several speakers at Wednesday’s meeting to criticize the appropriation of TIF funds since the program’s inception in 1986. Designed to encourage development in blighted areas, portions of property taxes are used as a subsidy for community development projects. Of roughly $5 billion that has been collected from TIF districts over the course of 27 years, $2.7 billion has been diverted from the school district.
In May, Emanuel announced a plan to funnel $55 million in TIF funds to a DePaul University basketball arena and hotel near McCormick Place.
“That should be our money for our kids, our schools,” said Caballero. “DePaul is getting our taxpayer dollars, is that correct? No. Give us back our money.”
At Caballero’s request, Garcia and other meeting attendees, Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) and State Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), agreed to write Emanuel a letter, asking him to restore funding to all of the schools scheduled to see budget cuts. They also promised to write Byrd-Bennett a letter requesting that she meet with the BPNC to discuss proposed budget cuts.
Here’s more from Wednesday’s meeting, including Caballero's heated discussion with CPS' Hampton:
These budget cuts are forcing principals into “unchartered territory,” according to Susan Rodriguez, principal at Shields Elementary School.
“We really have to tighten our belts,” she said. “The things we’ve been able to enjoy and provide for our kids and our families before will be lost.”
Shields Elementary, according to Rodriguez, stands to lose $350,000 under the proposed budget for next year, translating to the loss of two teaching positions and money for supplies and professional development.
“But we were one of the lucky ones,” she added.
Rodriguez pointed to the students at Kelly High School, saying they will suffer the most under CPS’ plan.
“These poor kids are trying to compete, they need to get into universities and colleges, and they depend on their school to prepare them for that competition,” Rodriguez said. “We have a community that has high needs, it’s a low-income community and we need more services, not less.”
Brosnan said the BPNC will continue to apply pressure on CPS officials. His community, he continued, deserves to know how the district determines which schools will get cut and why.
“At the very least, we want answers,” he said. “They don’t care about us. Look at the proof. Who’s getting $100,000 in extra funds, and who’s getting $4 million in cuts?”
Brosnan says he is still pursuing a meeting with Vitale and Byrd-Bennett. Hampton promised to inform the community activists about when Byrd-Bennett might be available for a meeting.
“Poor working class communities of color are getting cut, and cut bad,” he said. “Why are our schools getting cut when other schools in other communities aren’t getting hit as hard? They don’t want us to succeed.”