Parent testimonies from the 7/27/16 CPS Board Meeting

Thanks to the 7 parents who spoke at the Board meeting this month about the real cuts to their schools versus what has been reported, and the need for support from the Board for city revenue ordinances that have been proposed to help offset cuts at all of our schools.

Testimony from Andrea Tolzmann, Pulaski International

My name is Andrea Tolzmann from Pulaski International School. Thank you for hearing me today as I ask for better transparency from CPS when reporting to school stakeholders.

The school budget roll-out this summer has not been an open and transparent process. CPS shared budgets with principals based in mid-year cut levels and this was not a transparent message of how inadequate these budgets are. There absolutely ARE funding cuts to classrooms. Schools and classrooms were affected last year with cuts and they will be this year, too. It is disingenuous for this Board and CPS officials to say these inadequate budgets will not affect classrooms.

All Means All funding for our Diverse Learners is an example of a non-transparent decision that cuts funding from classrooms. CPS has not been transparent at all about the mysterious funding formula that is being used to allocate All Means All funding. This formula is not being made available to principals now, and it was not provided to Pulaski last year when we were a AMA pilot school. Pulaski lost funding for special ed teachers and aides despite having more student IEP minutes, yet CPS Diverse Learners and Budget officials had no explanation or answer to what funding formula was used to allocate our budget last year. What is going to happen this year when 550 schools are asking the same question? Will CPS share this formula to help us understand these inadequate budgets for our Diverse Learners? I ask you, what is the funding formula being used to figure All Means All funding?

If CPS were truly transparent about these budgets, it would have followed it’s own example of transparency as exhibited with the Lead Testing website, which is updated daily, is easy to search and is publicly shared. CPS should have created a public database with easy-to-read comparisons of last year’s budgets showing separate Special Ed funding, enrollment, and mid-year cuts to each school and then this year’s budgets with a separate All Means All funding line that shows how those monies fit in to a school’s SBB funds.
The budget waters were very murky for principals and LSCs to quickly get through this year. To try to understand where we started last year with how we got where we are this year was like comparing apples to oranges. Schools have been left searching through the murky waters to decide what to cut so it won’t affect classrooms, while CPS celebrates these budgets in their messages to CPS stakeholders and the public.

CPS school communities and Chicago taxpayers deserve honesty and respect in the message they receive from their school district and we deserve leaders that do not celebrate a budget that cuts any more resources from the classrooms and our students. The future of our children and our city depends on an equitably funded and transparent school system. Please join parents across the city and advocate for the maximum TIF surplus to help offset the cuts across the system.

Testimony from Christine Palmiere, Blaine elementary

I am a parent at Blaine Elementary school in Lakeview. It was falsely reported that Blaine did not receive cuts to funding when in reality our LSC reported a $130-$200K deficit.

The continual slashing of funding leads to chaos, inconsistency and insecurity for hundreds of thousands of CPS families.

My son has autism. I am the parent of a child with special needs in Chicago Public Schools. We are considered the lowest of the low. The message has been clear, special needs students are not welcome in CPS. Once again, Special Education funding has been cut, and the diverse learner budget has recklessly been lumped together with general education funding at the local school level. A special education teacher and 2 SECA’s are cut from our school. Just at a time when I was preparing to request a one on one aide for my child; who’s IEP minutes and needs were not being met before this - asking for such now is seemingly an impossibility.

But as a special needs parent, we know how to advocate. We do not tire, and we do not give up. Our children deserve more from CPS. Please move to reverse the reprehensible co-mingling of the diverse learner budget and to release the 4% funds intended for litigation fees to instead be used for our students now. Any litigation brought forth in effort to fight for our special needs students will not be on the backs of our hard working teachers and principals, it will have the name of every person on this board and CPS management attached to it.
Our children are not progressing at the rate which should be expected within CPS. Children who need and deserve the most are repeatedly given the least.
I wish that this board could advocate for viable revenue sources to avoid systematic cuts equally as hard as we CPS parents are forced to advocate for our children’s basic, legal right to a fair and equal free appropriate public education.

Testimony from Gin Kilgore, Goethe

Good morning, my name is Gin Kilgore. Ray Elementary 1986, Kenwood Academy 1990, Lead Literacy Teacher at Mitchell in the early aughts, currently LSC chair at Goethe, and mom to a 4th grader. I am all in and will never give up on the struggle to ensure Chicago’s children have access to high quality, loving, public education.

First, I want to thank you for serving on the board and listening, especially since so often our comments are born of anger and frustration—even despair. I don’t envy the job of managing a district in such crisis. I know that no one wakes up each day with a maniacal cackle: “let’s see what tacks we can throw on the road today for our school leaders!”

And yet, that’s how it often feels, with a smoke bomb to follow so no one can figure out exactly what happened, why we can’t get the car to move. Time to send out desperate emails to parents asking for spares.

I know many today will talk about budget cuts, high stakes/low quality tests, and privatization. These do affect classrooms and school moral. They will talk about the baiting and switching that makes it so hard to even know what our budgets are! Of the families and teachers who have left the system out of frustration. Of the need for sustainable funding, and for the City to crack open the TIF coffers.
I’d like to use an analogy to drive home the point as it were (funny, since I don’t own a car and ride a bike everywhere ) Hat/tip to fellow LSC member Tony Jones regarding the change to special education funding.

I can't shake the idea that what CPS has done equates to if major auto manufacturers lowered the prices of their cars and then turned around and said "now we have to talk about safety belts, airbags, and bumpers.....legally we can't let you drive off the lot without them....and here's what they cost to install." Special education instructors and IEP plans are legislated into place, just like safety belts, because they're the right thing to do, a common sense idea, and one that bears legal ramifications for noncompliance.

Also, get this—last year we successfully appealed to open two more special education positions. We were working with two great candidates but—because of all the uncertainty of CPS—they decided to work in other districts!
But here’s the thing. No matter how crappy the car is, how much duct tape we need to keep it from falling apart, we keep it running. Sometimes it feels we are running on fumes. But we keep pumping the tank with love, sweat, sometimes tears, often with our own pocketbooks.

I Implore you to sit down with our principal, Barbara Kargas, sometime soon to get a sense of the amazing people fighting against the odds to keep going. We worry that she will throw her hands up and retire. She works over 100 hours a week, but always has a smile for parents, staff, and—most important—our children. This summer parents pitched in to buy her a fancy ergonomic chair because of all of her late nights. Here is a picture of her, holding a sign that says “full buckets, full hearts.” We like to say we are a bucket filling school.

Speaking of buckets—Gov. Rauner, if you are listening, you really dipped our buckets with your words about teachers and principals the other day. In fact, you riled me up so much that I renewed my teaching license this week! I hope my CPS schooling, followed by a degree from Brown University and a Masters in Education is good enough for you!!!