Officials from Chicago Public Schools (CPS) agreed to meet with community members at a Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC) public meeting next week, following a massive protest Thursday. Roughly 200 parents and students gathered outside CPS headquarters to push back against impending budget cuts that threaten to strip critical resources from the district.
During the protest, the Thomas Kelly High School marching band’s drum line performed what may have been its final concert, according to Thursday's participants who say the school’s music program faces an uncertain future.
“How are they making things better,” asked Anita Caballero, board president of the BPNC, who participated in the demonstration. “All of the schools in the Chicago area are losing all of the things that make education work, they’re losing teachers; they’re losing counselors; they’re losing materials; and we can’t stand for it.”
Caballero participated in Thursday’s BPNC-organized rally outside Urban Partnership Bank, at 55 East Jackson Blvd., where Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale serves as chairman. Led by the marching band, demonstrators marched from a short demonstration at the bank to CPS headquarters, at 125 South Clark St., to demand a meeting with CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.
“Grades are going to drop, classes are going to be overcrowded, and students are going to lose things they love, like Kelly’s band, if they go through with these budget cuts,” said Caballero, whose 18 year-old son graduated from Kelly High last year.
CPS’ new per-student budgeting system provides that principals receive funding to spend at their discretion based on the number of students in their school.
The proposed budgets will result in more than $94.3 million in cuts, affecting 155 of the district’s 681 schools, according to the education coalition Raise Your Hand, which has aggregated data from CPS principals and local school councils.
Kelly High is slated to lose roughly $4 million for the 2013-2014 academic year, Raise Your Hand reports, resulting in 23 less teachers and the removal of 10 non-teaching staff members. Protesters said the school’s orchestra and band directors are two of the teachers who may not be there next year.
“Our teachers are already spreading themselves so thin,” said Martha Valdez-Lontreras, a parent of two Nathan Davis Elementary School students. Davis stands to lose approximately $1 million next year, which translates to the loss of six teachers and three non-teaching staff positions.
Valdez-Lontreras said she can't imagine losing more teachers in the CPS district without it having a damaging effect on student education.
Here’s more from Valdez-Lontreras and Thursday’s protest:
In an attempt to soften the blow of district-wide budget cuts, the district announced Tuesday it would provide an early distribution of $36 million to schools across the city. The funds, which derive from supplemental general state aid, are not usually dispersed until schools see their enrollment figures in the fall.
"These dollars, which normally have been issued to schools in October or November of every year, will better enable you to plan for your budget in advance of the school year and to offset some of the negative impacts," Byrd-Bennett wrote in a letter to principals. "This will represent a permanent reform to our budget process moving forward."
But Patrick Brosnan, executive director of the BPNC, said CPS officials have largely left parents and students in the dark during the budgeting process.
“We want CPS to explain to us why we’re experiencing these cuts,” said Patrick Brosnan, executive director of BPNC, adding that he received a firm commitment today from CPS officials that “department heads” would attend a BPNC community meeting scheduled for July 17.
“If they make these cuts, what’s going to happen,” he asked. “Crime goes up, education goes down, and we can’t allow that to happen.”
Brosnan scoffed at the district’s release of $36 million, saying it is not enough. He pointed out that schools in his Brighton Park community on Chicago’s Southwest Side are slated to collectively lose almost $7.5 million from their budgets.
“If we keep pushing, they’re going to find the rest,” he said, regarding the nearly $100 million Chicago’s schools stand to lose through the cuts.
Wendy Katten, executive director for Raise Your Hand, agreed with Brosnan that CPS has not been forthcoming to those most affected by the district’s austerity moves.
“Why are we the ones that have to figure out what’s happening,” asked Katten, who participated in Thursday’s protest. “Why can’t CPS just be honest and tell students and parents what’s going on in their schools?”
Katten added that the principal of her 10 year-old son’s school, Augustus Burley Elementary School, was informed that his institution is slated for roughly $600,000 in cuts, translating to the loss of five teachers.
“There is a revenue issue in CPS, but they don’t have a good plan of how to fix it and there are a lot of political games going on right now,” she said.
Citing a $1 billion deficit, which the district largely attributes to the Illinois legislature’s failure to pass pension reform legislation, the Chicago Board of Education voted in May to shutter 50 schools across the city.
But Katten, as well as hundreds of Thursday’s protesters, criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to dedicate $55 million in TIF funds for a DePaul University basketball arena and hotel near McCormick Place.
One parent who participated in the protest suggested the allocation of TIF money for the project is retribution for last year’s massive Chicago Teachers Union strike.
“We went on strike so we could get more resources, and our punishment for striking is closing schools and denying us money we need,” said Shoneice Reynolds, whose nine-year-old son, Asean Johnson, attends Marcus Moziah Garvey Elementary School, in Washington Heights on Chicago’s Far South Side.
Garvey Elementary was originally included on CPS’ closure list earlier this year, but was spared at the last minute. Johnson delivered a rousing speech during a protest against the school closures on the eve of the Chicago Board of Education vote. CTU President Karen Lewis promised to vote for the third grader if he ran for mayor in 2025.
Raise Your Hand hasn’t yet determined how much of Garvey’s budget will be cut for the 2013-2014 school year.
Reynolds said she plans to attend BPNC’s July 17 community meeting with CPS officials at 6:30 p.m. at James Shields Elementary School.
“I’m scared for every child in the city of Chicago,” she said. “Budget cuts are forcing our education system in a race to the bottom.”