Public Schools

Chicago's Budget Woes Leave Many Public Schools Hogtied


CPS began its year having a $1.1 billion operating deficit. The CPS Board has taken several actions to manage the situation although it waits for that State of Illinois to agree with a budget and address the problems of the severally underfunded pension system. Until now it's been unclear the way the increased borrowing announced by CPS and also the $200 million in expense cuts which will range from the removal of 1,400 employees from the work force of 41,500 would affect individual schools and their students.

Now, we are starting to discover.

According to Catalyst Chicago, CPS has started to supply guidance to the leaders from the 522 traditional schools in their system: \”Principals got official word-that they'll receive budgets for just July and August. The district's finance head says CPS is not yet in a position to calculate the amount of money schools will receive for every student, so schools can't make use of the stopgap budgets to predict what they'll ultimately receive.\”

Catalyst Chicago's reporting highlighted the impact of this uncertainty on schools directly operated by CPS. Laura LeMone, the main at Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Senior high school, said, \”I'm glad they're doing this instead of there being nothing, however it still means you can't prioritize or plan.\” Principal Peter Auffant at Brighton Park's Shields Junior high school says he's slowed summer work such as curriculum development because of budget uncertainties, and is holding off on buying needed agenda books for every student. At Sullivan Senior high school in Rogers Park, Principal Chad Adams says he won't fill two or three openings even with good candidates until he is able to promise a situation, saying, \”I don't want to hire and fire.\”

A report within the Chicago Tribune provided some insight around the impact from the CPS budget problem on the area's 142 charter schools:

\”Chicago Public Schools has told its independently operated schools to expect a fraction of their normal payout in the district for that first quarter of the budget year. The city's charter, contract and alternative schools will receive as little as 15 percent of funds normally written by CPS at the end of this month-[and]-they will get a partial first quarter payment this month to assist ensure schools open on time-the full quantity of their first quarter payment, as well as reimbursement for special education services rendered in the closing months of the recently completed fiscal year in a later date\”

According to Catalyst Chicago, \”The leader from the advocacy group Illinois Network of Charter Schools, Andrew Broy, says the deferred payment is forcing schools with early start dates to reconsider them and may potentially lead charter schools to shorten their academic years.\”

The Tribune spoke to Ron Manderscheid, president from the Northwestern University Settlement Association, which operates the Rowe Elementary charter school. Ron said the association would need to take a loan to cover its expenses. \”As a small school, it's an issue. But I think this is an problem for large schools too. My $300,000 issue is a sizable school's $3 million problem. So it’s all in scale, right?\”

\”We know everyone in the mayor's office and CPS will work onto it,\” said Manderschied. \”But the schools and families and teachers are type of caught in the center of this. We're still attempting to understand it all. And I still think they're, frankly, trying to figure it out.\”

Until Illinois's fractured political leadership can agree with a state budget and what if any actions will happen to fix the seriously underfinanced pensions plans, CPS won't be able to finalize its 2021 -16 budget or think about plans for that years beyond. And individual schools will be left scrambling to finalize their staff and learning plans for the coming year. Chicago's students get no take advantage of the situation, and that is the sad main point here towards the story.

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