Sun-Times reports that CPS restores $35k-$100k to 130 schools

After rejecting the budget and deep cuts initially proposed by Chicago Public Schools, Bell Elementary School voted Monday night at a special Local School Council meeting to approve a “budget of choice” that would untie their principal’s hands but still send a message to the district.

The LSC, which ultimately approves the school’s budget and oversees the principal’s spending, also said it would not spend $100,000 recently offered by CPS, saying they didn’t know where the money was coming from.

Two other North Side schools who say the budgets proposed by CPS cut too deeply and rejected them, also were given an extra $100,000 from the district, the maximum amount offered to 135 elementary schools citywide.

“We the LSC cannot approve a budget based on insufficient funding that does not meet the basic educational needs of the students of Bell school. Instead we move to approve a budget of choice of $8.8 million to adequately serve our student body of more than 1,000 students within our three programs…” read Bell’s approved motion.

The group asked principal Sandra Caudill to leave the new $100,000 alone in the budget, regarding it as suspicious.

“If we accept the new money, people will think we rolled over,” said LSC member Julie Coffman.

 Roberta Salas of Murphy Elementary School said schools like hers – that serve poorer children – were looking to see what Bell was going to do.

“You guys are high-profile schools,” she said during the meeting at Bell, 3730 N. Oakley. “We didn’t get any money. We’re afraid to do this because we’re a nothing school.”

CPS changed its budgeting method this year to allocate a set sum of money to schools for each child enrolled, and to let principals decide how to spend that money — whether on more teachers or supplies or programs. The district, which won’t release the budgets until the end of this month when they’re finalized, says the “student-based budgeting” affords more autonomy to principals. Many schools say it’s left them with tough decisions on how to spend far less money than last year. Raise Your Hand, the parent group, has amassed numbers from more than 150 schools totaling at least $95 million in budget cuts.

CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said Monday night that 135 total schools “in every corner of the city” qualified for additional funding “to help offset the overall reductions to their budget.” Those schools, which the district did not list, would get $35,000, $70,000 or $100,000 if their draft budgets decreased more than 4 percent on top of enrollment changes, or cut “significant” bilingual or magnet cluster positions, or decreased more than 2 percent and fell below a “certain threshold in the per-pupil amount.” The district could not quantify that threshold nor where the additional money was found, saying only that CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has been meeting with principals “determined to keep cuts as far from the classroom as possible.”

Six schools, all in well-to-do areas, so far have rejected their draft budgets — four outright: Blaine Elementary, Whitney Young Magnet High School, Edgebrook Elementary, and Kellogg Elementary School. Two more, Audubon and Bell, have since rescinded previous approval votes. Blaine and Audubon also have set meetings for Wednesday evening to discuss the same allotment.

Alex Pramenko, chair of the LSC at Audubon, which has been cut by $400,000, thinks his school was chosen for the maximum offered to schools “because we complained and didn’t pass it.

“What, are they trying to shut us up because we’re a middle class neighborhood?” Pramenko said by telephone Monday afternoon. “And why is it all so secretive?”

Pramenko said his principal was told by the network chief that the budgets needed to be approved on Wednesday. The $100,000 already has been loaded into the school’s budgeting program but it cannot be spent without LSC approval, he said.

Kellogg, 9241 S. Leavitt, the only South Side school known to vote no, has not been offered or given any additional money from CPS, according to parent LSC member Lisa Myles. Not yet, anyway, she said.

“I was curious, wondering. I don’t know how they chose those three schools. It also seemed discriminatory to do that,” she said. “For them to offer this amount to those schools is not necessarily a good thing because it encourages them to jump ship and leave the rest of us fighting.”

Kellogg’s cut of $385,000 so far means the loss of 2.5 general education teachers, some parent aides — and some substitute teachers, all of whom fill in while teachers out of the classroom for professional development, Myles said.

Bell’s budget for the upcoming school year is about $745,000 less than last year’s. Blaine’s is about $600,000.

Common Sense, a coalition of LSCs across the district called the grant money “a step toward restoring budgets but this grant is merely a drop in the bucket for schools who have lost several hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said leader Kate Schott Bolduc. “This also isn’t a systemwide solution.”

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