After Chicago Public Schools administrators unanimously approved a $5.7 billion budget this week, parents and teachers took to the streets, and even newly-appointed CPS CEO Forrest Claypool had to admit that their spending plan was less than ideal.
Relative to poverty, Chicago is at the bottom of the list when it comes to education funding, Claypool said. WLS-TV Chicago's Michelle Gallardo reported that the 2016 budget approval meant another step toward issuing more than $1 billion in bonds and approving a measure to raise property taxes to the maximum allowable amount. CPS also wrote $500 million in assistance from the state into the plan, which is money that will probably not come through.
"If any parent who is watching this made their household budget work that way – well, I don't know how I'm going to make my rent, I don't know how I'm going to feed my family, but maybe I'll win the lottery – they would need to have their head examined," said Jesse Sharkey, Chicago Teachers Union.
Chicago Teachers Union members and others said some of the cuts in the budget were unacceptable, such as the cut to funding for students with special needs. Sharkey says the rich need to be taxed to prevent schools from closing halfway through the school year. And if, in fact, the state does not come in with the requested $500 million, CPS says there will be more job cuts and even more borrowing.
A $1 billion short-term line of credit would be used to make all CPS payments on time. Ginger Ostro, Chicago Public Schools Chief Financial Officer, explained the cash flow problems that keep occurring, saying they are because of a large debt and pension payments the district is required to pay. CPS can legally make amendments to the budget after school starts, as CPS did in the 2012-2013 school year.
Board of Education Vice President Jesse Ruiz asked district budget officials to update board members every month until the budget is finalized, according to Becky Vevea of WBEZ Radio.
"We know this is not the budget we want to be presenting to you, but it does reflect the reality of where we are," chief finance officer Ginger Ostro said. Ostro added that she was hopeful that $480 million would come before the end of the year from the General Assembly, which has yet to agree on whether to step in at all. She also blamed the state for heavy contributions toward teacher pensions everywhere in Illinois except for Chicago.
Board President Frank Clark compared the district's financial status to people who live off credit cards, but he did vote for the budget to be approved. Sooner or later, he continued, the credit cards max out and the problem gets serious. The budget presented by CPS, Clark said, will keep the district going, but it is not a long-term, sustainable approach.
Nothing has been said about a contingency plan if the state is not willing to contribute its $500 million, reports Lauren Fitzpatrick writing for the Chicago Sun-Times.
One of the cuts included in the budget is to special education aides. CPS claims that special education students have had higher staffing numbers than are required by the state. But Rod Estvan of Access Living says cuts are traditionally restored over the course of the year, so he would like to see the positions in place as children are identified so that services can be delivered then rather than having to hire staff later in the school year when very few potential employees are available.