Chicago Parents Continue to Protest School Budget Cuts

At a meeting held in the city’s Northside neighborhood, Chicago parents voiced frustration with what they see as an excessive reduction in classroom services that will be brought about if the Chicago Public Schools’ $5.58 billion budget proposal is adopted. Parents expressed dissatisfaction on issues ranging from unfunded mandates to increased fees planned this year to cover the shortfall in funding.

Janet Meegan, a Mitchell Elementary parent, said that one of her chief concerns was the fact that the city will no longer be providing money to cover the additional expenses incurred by schools adopting a new longer day – a plan championed by the Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Meegan added that the cuts meant that Mitchell would be losing its librarian as well a specialized reading teacher, and if parents wanted to continue music and arts programs, they would need to pay for them out of their own pocket.

Two hundred people attended the meeting, one of a number scheduled prior to the Board of Education vote on the budget on August 28th.

The preliminary budget unveiled last week closed a $1 billion deficit through a property tax hike; cuts to the central office, operations and the classroom; and the use of nearly $700 million in cash reserves.

CPS, which has blamed its budget woes on lack of government worker pension reform in Springfield, has maintained it tried to keep cuts away from the classroom.

But the district acknowledged in its preliminary budget that funding to classrooms would be cut by $68 million. That figure would look even worse if the district had not factored in increases to the budgets of privately run charter schools and to the receiving schools that will be taking in students from the 47 schools that are closing this year.

According to Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah of the Chicago Tribune, Christopher Ball of Raise Your Hand argued at the meeting that the actual classroom cuts will more than double that – $162 million. Raise Your Hand, an organization that has been a frequent critic of the CPS, also said that district officials were reneging on promises to help neighborhood schools.

The statement issued by CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett didn’t address parents’ specific concerns, but once again blamed the cuts on failure by state legislature to move on pension reform. Matt Farmer, one of the attorneys on the Chicago Teachers Union lawsuit that attempted to stop the closure of 49 schools around the city, spoke at the meeting to argue that the brunt of the budget cuts will be borne by neighborhood schools.

Farmer blasted the $20 million no-bid contract awarded by the district to a leadership training academy where Byrd-Bennett was once a paid coach. He brought audience members to their feet with a call to taking their anger to the streets and to the homes of CPS officials, including Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley, who presided over the hearing.

“We will see you in the streets,” he vowed. “You will hear our voices in your sleep.”