Ray rescinds budget, joins TIF fight

Staff Writer

The Ray Elementary School local school council (LSC) wrote a letter to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel stating that the school will not accept the proposed budget given to them from Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

In its attempt to dissolve its deficit, CPS, which the mayor governs, has cut school budgets across the city. The school system also announced an unprecedented number of school closures for the 2013-2014 school year. At its June meeting, the LSC at Ray, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., accepted the new budget, but voted to rescind its decision at its July meeting and join several other schools in demanding that the mayor and CPS increase the amount allocated to each school.

“Your recent budget cuts have created an educational crisis at Ray School,” said the LSC in the letter. “As a ‘receiving’ school in the recent CPS actions we had previously been told that our budget would not be reduced to a figure lower than last year’s budget.”

Ray and Bret Harte, 1556 E. 56th St., were set to receive extra funding as welcoming schools for Canter Middle School, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave., which CPS planned to close the next school year. After several hearings, CPS chose to keep Canter open and start a one-year phase out process, allowing the current students to graduate, but both Ray and Bret Harte still have to add 7th grade this year to receive students graduating from Shoesmith Elementary School, 1330 E. 50th St. Both schools will also have to add 8th grade the following school year.

Despite the additions in space, services and curriculum that must be made, Ray’s budget has been reduced between $400,000 to $500,000, according to the LSC.

“Currently we expect about 25 seventh graders who previously attended Shoesmith and about 40 seventh graders remaining at Ray, for an expected total of 60 to 65 seventh graders,” said Gordon Mayer, chairman of the Ray LSC. “We also currently anticipate about 80 students in sixth grade.”

He said Ray has four teachers set to teach 6th and 7th grade, which will be taught in departmental form. Two teachers who were already at Ray, one who is coming over from Canter to teach math, and one additional teacher will teach the students.

“We really need a fifth teacher position, and I certainly intend to advocate for additional support for that position,” Mayer said. “We recognize other schools across CPS have even bigger challenges but we really, really want that additional teacher.”

In its letter, the LSC said taking the additional welcoming school funding away and changing its designation to a receiving school is dishonest.

“I fault CPS for messing up the budget three times in a row these past three years,” Mayer said. “Every year … the process seems more broken. With its lateness, its changes, the chaotic process this year and last-minute layoffs, I feel the budget was a blow to the entire system, and further erodes what I think of as core parts of our kids’ education – like art and music.”

“We are required to accommodate the Shoesmith students as well as our own who would have attended Canter Middle School for their seventh grade,” the LSC said in the letter. “We feel that your position and CPS’s dealings in this matter are disingenuous.”

The LSC said, “without a sufficient level of funding, we jeopardize the quality of education that our children deserve and are accustomed to receiving at Ray, a high performing school that traditionally offered language, music, art, a great curriculum and enrichment programs.”

The Ray LSC said it joins the schools around the city in asking the city to declare a Tax Incremental Finance District (TIF) surplus, which would immediately inject a significant amount of money into public education, “and address the financial issues facing Ray and so many other CPS schools at this time.”