RYH Meeting with Tim Cawley to discuss CPS Budget - 9/12/13

Raise Your Hand had the opportunity to meet and discuss the CPS budget with Tim Cawley, Chief Administrative Officer of CPS on 9/12/13. Mike Rendina, Chief of Public Affairs, was also in attendance Our goal was to discuss CPS’ budget priorities and inquire why traditional schools received a disproportionate cut of over $100 million in this budget while charters received an increase of $80 million this year.

Here are our notes from that meeting.

RYH:  We get the budget, we just don’t understand the reasoning behind it.  We are parents with children affected at the classroom level by huge budget cuts- loss of teachers and programs; any teacher or programming gains from the longer school day are gone.  Our members can support the existence of these cuts by explaining to you the losses at the individual school level.

We learned, by studying the budget, that there was a disproportionate increase in funding to charters, compared to neighborhood schools.  We’d like to know the reasoning behind this decision.

CPS:  A budget reflects priorities.  In our district, charters are a priority.  Not a higher priority, but a priority.  We have big challenges in increasing academic outcomes .  Charters can help.  They have many ideas and resources.  Charters also provide choice.  Examples: ChiArts; Quest; Urban Prep.  We think different types of schools are a good thing for parents.  Charters are a clear and stated part of CPS’s strategy.

RYH:  There is a $1 billion deficit and 50 schools were just closed.  Is this the best time to prioritize increasing funding to charters?

CPS: Yes.  The decision has been made.  We feel spending money on charters, investing in principals… these things are needed now.

RYH:  The $20 million contract with SUPES was a no-bid contract and they have connections to CEO Bennett.

CPS:  SUPES has unique capabilities to help principals.  We do “sole source” [internal name for no-bid contract] on a lot of things.  If we determine that a company has unique skills, they own that industry, we can do a no-bid contract.  An example of another sole source is Gordion.  In the view of the CPS people who help principals get better, SUPES is unique.  SUPES was evaluated by that CPS Team.  This $20 million investment to make principals stronger was a strategic investment.

RYH:  More important than hiring librarians for our schools?

CPS: Yes.

RYH:  There were local universities,  who would have bid on this contract.  They have principal training programs that have received national recognition. Local universities with proven records of being invested in their own communities, SUPES is not a local program, it’s an outsider.

CPS:  A team of educational leaders made the choice to hire SUPES.

CPS:  Charters are getting more funding for a couple of reasons.  For one, the move to student based budgeting.  In the past, charters were getting less.  Now funding is equal.

RYH:  How much less?  We hear this often.  Do you have documents to show us how much less?  We hear this from charter leaders, charter advocates, and CPS but no one has an answer.

CPS:  It’s very difficult.  Each charter is funded differently.  With the new student based budgeting formula, it doesn’t matter where you go.  The funding is equal.

CPS:  An example of less funding for charters is for Special Education teachers.  We were giving $65,000 to charters for a Special Education teacher.  The charters kept saying it costs more.  It probably really costs about $85,000, that’s district average.  CPS said, “Tough.”  Now, we are saying, “Fair enough!”  We will give you equal funding because we’ve been screwing you.

Another reason it’s difficult to give you the exact amount less that charters were receiving is because of the big bucket of money.  Charters are a certain proportion of our population- 14%.  Done fairly, all money in the bucket would go out equally.

RYH:  We want to see the numbers indicating how much less charters used to get.

CPS:  That’s a lot of work we’d have to do.  We have other work to do. 

RYH:  This is a public school system, public tax money.  We should be able to see those numbers.

RYH:  Where should the state need to add funding?

CPS:  Yes, we need more money.  We need to work with legislators here, in the suburbs and downstate to help them understand and recognize the challenges of urban education.  There is a State Education Funding Task Force.  The perception in Springfield is that Chicago gets more than it should for poverty.  We don’t get enough.  Over 18,000 students were homeless last year.  The funding formula may change to more money going outside of Chicago and downstate.

RYH:  Equity is not student based budgeting.  Parents want quality education, not choice…  Why is it not a choice to have good neighborhood schools right down the street?  Why is “choice” always a charter?  You are taking away choice…

CPS:  We are a unique district.  It is hard for one size fits all.  Kids are different and learn different.  Parents want to seek different choices.  Neighborhood schools should be number one but we need other options.  It’s important to have a mix.

RYH:  The short term issue is that the money to expand choices came out of neighborhood schools.  Magnets, selective enrollments, magnet clusters… next year will they get slashed?

CPS:  These schools work in the city and we want to keep them working.  We are looking at their funding levels.  Should they get extras or should we equalize?  Could they continue with their success without these positions?  Would money be better spent in the neighborhood school?

RYH:  How will this decision be made?  And will there be a rushed budget procedure again?

CPS:  We will change the budget process in the future.  We want the Board to approve the budget at the end of June 2014.  Principals should get their budget in early April.  This will give them time to work and time for us to host community meetings.  There will be a more sensible budget calendar.

RYH:  Charter expansion, student based budgeting… all in line with the Gates Compact.  Is that what you are trying to do?

CPS:  The Gates Compact does state that charters should be treated on par with district schools.  Yes.

RYH:  Are you using it as a guideline?

CPS:  Normalized student based budgeting makes it much easier to compare funding and it happens to be the same.  [Equal SBB funding for charters and traditional schools.]

RYH:  You keep saying school choice but you are only offering charters.  Why not invest in magnets, selective enrollments, and other programs that work?

CPS:  We are.  We’ve added IB and STEM programs.  We’ve added magnet seats at Disney II.

CPS:  There’s a lot of reprogramming inside schools.  We’re not building brand new schools but we are changing the focus or the attendance boundary.

RYH:  Many times, charters aren’t a “choice”- they are put in neighborhoods where you have starved the schools of resources so, of course, anything looks better and when parents see a bright, shiny, new building, they will go.  There are some good charters, but not all.

CPS:  We do need to look at magnets and selective enrollments… what are the good ones?  How do we get more?  Charters are on contracts of 5 years so they can not be renewed if performance is not up to par.  We closed 2 last year due to performance level.  I assume this will continue.

RYH:  We’d really like those funding numbers for charters.  We’ll tell people what the data reflects.

While his style was blunt, we appreciate that Mr. Cawley did answer questions outright. There was no hemming and hawing about this year’s budget favoring charter schools and negatively impacting traditional schools.    While CPS says they are only equalizing funding, when done during a time of looming deficits and no increased revenue, these increases take away money from tradtional schools. There is only so much revenue to go around, and CPS has increased spending on charters by $76 and $80 million over the past two years. 

As parents and concerned citizens about the state of public education, we need to keep advocating for our schools to make sure they get the support and resources they need. Policies and decisions at CPS often seem to be made in a vacuum without stakeholder input.  We will continue to advocate for increased revenue but we also need to push CPS to value our  traditional public schools where the majority of Chicago's children are educated. The budget passed this year included spending on many new initiatives, increases to many Central Office departments and another increase to charters, and left traditional public schools with over $100 million in cuts.  We have to keep our voices strong and growing on the need to have a system that works to support our schools and doesn't continue to undermine quality education across the classrooms and school buildings of Chicago.