Today members of the RYH Board met with CEO Claypool. We were invited to discuss the dire budget situation, but we also addressed charter proliferation, the broken formula used to cut special education teachers and staff, and the contracts that we think could potentially be cut. We also left a copy of the letter below, which we delivered to Mayor Emanuel, asking him to intervene and ensure that CPS changes the broken special education formula not just for those schools who appeal, but for all schools going forward. We outlined the many solutions we have been proposing regarding other places to cut, revenues to secure via TIF, in additon to the state funding solutions we support.
CEO Claypool was responsive to concerns about the special education cuts and said that the most recent round of cuts have been put on hold, and every IEP would be reviewed as part of this process. We said we will continue to push for CPS to amend the flawed formula for all schools.
October 15, 2015
Mayor Rahm Emanuel
121 N. LaSalle
Dear Mayor Emanuel:
As we discussed on July 8th, 2015 the budget situation at Chicago Public Schools is dire, and, if it is to be resolved, all parties---school district, city, state, parents, teachers, and taxpayers---must work together for sustainable solutions and sound education policy to fund our schools properly.
Beyond pushing for funding at the state level, which we very much support, as the sole elected official with responsibility for CPS, the burden falls on you to make sure the city and the school district are doing their part to cut non-essential spending and find additional sources of revenue. In addition, it is imperative for you to recognize that spending on the teachers and staff to fulfill students’ Individual Education Plans (IEP) and 504 plans is, in fact, essential spending.
We at Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education are very concerned about the new formula that has been established by the Office of Diverse Learners Supports and Services (ODLSS) at CPS, which has led to many unwarranted cuts to special education across the district. We are asking you to intervene immediately and ensure that this flawed formula is fixed and special education positions are reallocated based on a formula that accurately matches how services are delivered in a school setting. The current formula is rife with problems and will leave many schools unable to meet students’ IEP minutes. Below are some issues with the formula:
- CPS failed to properly factor in dedicated aides to the formula when allocating staff.
- CPS did not factor in inclusive settings and used a blunt formula that promotes clustering of students and, if implemented, will likely lead to violations of least restrictive environment (LRE) conditions.
- CPS did not clarify if they are using LRE or ARS (Amount of Required Service) categories for staffing allocations; these classifications cannot be used interchangeably because they require very different staffing allocations.
- CPS set paraprofessional minutes at 2,100 per week, which is the total time staff spend in the building and does not include lunch and breaks. Will a student need to come in before or after school to receive IEP minutes?
- CPS has told schools to use general funds to make up for special ed cuts, which may be illegal in some cases, and is known as “supplanting.” See letter attached.
- CPS did not examine IEPs to determine staffing allocations before implementing this formula (per conversations with many principals.)
As a result of this new formula, schools will be left with three options: 1) fail to meet all students’ IEP minutes; 2) segregate students based on IEPs so that most of the children with IEPs in a grade are in one classroom (violating state special ed class size rules); or 3) revert to pre-Corey H days and violate LRE conditions.
Money spent to comply with IEP and 504 plans is essential to the education and, in some cases, the very lives of these students. And, it is essential to keep CPS in compliance with federal law regulating the treatment of disabled students---risking expensive litigation in the case of non-compliance.
Spending to keep class sizes small is also essential; class size is the single most effective educational tool to improve learning and achievement.
Fortunately, there remain areas of non-essential spending to be cut at CPS, in particular contracts, central office departments, and charter expansion:
- Contracts: A larger list of contracts that merit review is attached, including:
- A $66 million multi-vendor contract for professional development (PD). Several vendors charge more than $600/hour for these services. One of the vendors, Catapult Learning, was a former employer of Barbara Byrd-Bennett. Another, Atlantic Research Partners, owned by the man who introduced Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the former owner of SUPES, Gary Solomon, recently purchased and renamed SUPES.
- More than $16 million in contracts with three construction firms, Jacobs, Lend Lease, and URS. Almost a year ago, the Sun-Times exposed the political clout connections of these companies. They have already received more than $1 million each this fiscal year.
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a company that CPS’s own Inspector General urged the district to stop doing business with in January 2013, is part of the $66 million multi-vendor PD contract and also a $20 million curriculum materials contract and $3M ed tech contract approved in June.
- Central office departments to be cut: If all of these departments’ FY2016 budgets were reduced by half, the savings would be $39.9 million dollars: Family and Community Engagement, $7.5M; Incubation and Innovation, $9.1M; Accountability, $21.8M; Network Offices, $41.3M
- Charter Moratorium: Withdraw all the proposals for new charter schools to be approved later this month. CPS has opened 21,251 new seats primarily in privately run charter and alternative schools since the fall of 2012 (“school closing season”). Since that time, over 13,500 children left the district. This is a failed and unaffordable policy.
As mayor, you also control the city TIF accounts. At a time when you are asking Chicago residents to contribute more than ever via property taxes, it is vitally important to utilize a source of revenue like surplus TIF funds. TIF funding can be used as a one-time fix, but also has longer term implications for the financial health of our public schools:
- Immediately shut down more TIF districts that no longer meet their original purpose of developing blighted areas on top of the seven you announced in July.
- Return $400 million of TIF surplus to taxing bodies this year. This would not contribute to a long-term budget solution, but in light of chronic underfunding of neighborhood schools, the potential for devastating mid-year cuts, and an overall TIF account balance of $1.4 billion, we believe this is the right move at this time. Any surplus dollars in TIF accounts that accrue from the property tax hike must also be returned to taxing bodies.
- Rescind the $60 million of TIF funding currently allocated for another selective enrollment high school (“Obama Prep”). This school will provide only 300 new seats a year, 210 of them requiring test scores for admission. CPS does not need additional selective enrollment seats; it needs to support its existing district-run schools, especially neighborhood high schools, at a level that makes high-quality education possible for all students. Our three-tier education system is harming our students who need the most help.
Chicago is spreading resources too thin. Budgets reflect a set of priorities, and a high-quality public education system for the children of Chicago must be at the top of the list.
Please respond to us as soon as possible regarding the flawed special education formula. We are hopeful that you will intervene and get ODLSS to revise this formula and not wait for schools to make their appeals. The process that CPS has set up for principals to make appeals is cumbersome and difficult; the burden should be on CPS to fix their flawed formula rather than having principals waste any more precious time defending themselves against these unwarranted attacks on our most vulnerable populations. Thank you.
For Raise Your Hand for IL Public Education,
cc: CEO Forrest Claypool
Board President Frank Clark