A coalition of teachers, parents and other district employees gathered in front of the Board of Education building in Chicago to protest the Chicago Public Schools budget cuts. Linda Lutton of WBEZ was there to talk to those participating, and to allow them to explain how they feel the cuts will affect their lives and their schools.
Speaking to Lutton, Nelson Soza, the director of the Pilsen Alliance School, said that the cuts are forcing the school to eliminate 6 teaching positions and increase class sizes, which he says might have an impact on instructional quality. Part of the outrage from Soza and others is the fact that city education officials are refusing to disclose the exact amount of funding that CPS is losing, although according to Raise Your Hand, a group representing the city's parents, reports that the tally is now over $80 million.
Speakers Wednesday urged board members to use their political clout to demand that TIF funds destined for developers be channeled back to education. But board member Andrea Zopp said it was "magical thinking" to assume there's a pot of money hidden somewhere.
And board president David Vitale said school budgets were created "in the context of what we have said for a very long time, which is we have a significant financial problem. Nobody has tried to make any secret of that."
The board is claiming that it is not forcing the cuts on the district arbitrarily. CPS is running a budget deficit of over $1 billion, and to keep the schools operating the money has to be balanced somehow.
The chief concern is the district's pension obligations to its retirees, which are set to go from less than $200 million to more than $600 million in the next several years.
These justifications didn't seem to satisfy the students who attended the board meeting. According to Lutton, several didn't wait for their turn to address the board and interrupted speakers with accusations that district officials were sabotaging their education.
The situation pushed a handful of students to get unruly at the board meeting.
"You are here to purposefully set up our education for failure!" 18-year-old Israel Munoz yelled out in the board chambers. As soon as he was taken away by CPS security officers, his friend piped up, "What happened to the American Dream? Todo esto es falso!!"
Israel Munoz just graduated from Kelly High on the Southwest Side—the school is slated to lose $4 million, 23 teachers, a beloved theater program, and more. Parents and students from the city's best schools also spoke out.