By TONIA HILL
As Chicago Public Schools (CPS) principals received their budgets for the upcoming school year, Thursday, members of the Grassroots Education Movement and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) hosted a bus tour to push for adequate funding for schools and to showcase the impact of cuts to CPS.
CPS parents and students, fair education advocates, city and state lawmakers joined the ride that ventured into neighborhoods across the city.
The bus tour highlighted neighborhoods that have been “destabilized by six years of economic strangulation in education funding,” said the CTU in a written release.
Schools on the tour that were featured included Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave; Mollison Elementary School 4415 S. King Drive; Dett Elementary School, 2131 W. Monroe St.; National Teachers Academy, 55 W. Cermak; and Uplift Community High School, 900 W. Wilson Ave.
Chicago schools have faced hardship over the last few years as a result of a two-year budget impasse downstate as well as disinvestment that have signaled cuts to the classroom and special education funding and the closing of schools.
The district is also in the hole with creditors due to borrowing.
In May, Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled a $389 million dollar borrowing plan to keep schools open until the end of the school year and pay teacher pensions.
The CTU asserts that schools that are hit the hardest by continuous funding cuts are located in communities that are majority African American and Latino.
In addition to the three-year building condition issues at Kenwood nearly $2 million has been cut from the school since 2015, over 12 percent of their budget, said the CTU.
“We have one teacher that’s had sinus surgery, and other teachers are seeing the doctor regularly for sinus infections,” said Michael Shea, social studies teacher and CTU delegate at Kenwood. “Teachers have asthma now that didn’t have asthma when they worked in previous schools.”
Last month, a coalition from Kenwood came before the Board of Education.
The group demanded a thorough cleaning of all vents and ducts at Kenwood before school starts in the fall, fully staffed engineering and custodial departments, a full asbestos abatement, and complete replacement of the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system [HVAC].
The board agreed to take the first steps in addressing issues at the school. Since the meeting last month, a new engineer was hired.
Additionally, an air quality test will be conducted, more custodians will be hired, and more frequent pest control visits will be conducted at the school, according to Alfonso de Hoyos y Acosta, chief administrative officer at CPS.
Currently, two full-time custodians are assigned to clean the building, which is made up of 1,500 students and 100 staff members during school hours.
In a previous article in the April 12 issue of the Herald, Kenwood called on the district to provide additional custodial services after the school failed two health inspections in March.
The Kenwood community blamed CPS’s failure to provide appropriate custodial resources as a cause of the failed checks.
Problems in the inspection listed according to public records included mice droppings in numerous areas of the school.
The tour also included a drive-through of locations in tax increment financing (TIF) districts along Fulton Market, Lake Street and Randolph corridors, known as the Central West TIF district, and the Uptown neighborhood where Uplift High School is located.
CTU believes that increased TIF fund collections are “diverted away from school operation” at a time where the district “faces huge debt loads from previous school construction and pension legacy costs.”
Regarding the budget for this school year, the district maintains that it will open on time this year despite uncertainty in Springfield, where an education-funding bill could be signed into law with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s approval.
“Governor Rauner is holding children across the state hostage as bargaining chips for his political agenda, but we won’t let Chicago children be used as pawns in his game,” said CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool in written release.
The district will spend more to educate students this school year. Per pupil spending for next year will increase to $4,290, up five percent from the $4,087 rate at the beginning of the previous school year.
“For the third year in a row CPS leaders have provided a budget to schools without having any idea how they will pay for it,” said Karen Lewis president of the CTU. “Enrollment declines exacerbated by Springfield uncertainty will put us right back where we were last year facing mid-year cuts, the threat of furlough days, or a shortened school year.”
This fiscal year the district said it would receive $2.281 billion, a reduction of $43 million. Last fiscal year, the district received $2.324 billion.
The reduction in monies for the budget, according to CPS comes from the projected decline in enrollment. Additionally, CPS said it expects to see a decrease in federal dollars. CPS also projects a population decline of about 8,000 students this fall.
“CPS will have about $40 million less in federal funds to distribute to both district-run and charter schools,” CPS said in a written statement. “This is due to a likely reduction in the overall amount of federal Title I and Title II funds going to school districts nationwide, declining CPS enrollment and a lower concentration of poverty in Chicago.”
Special education funding will see a bump in financing this academic year. Lewis argued the latest budget does show that the district is, “getting serious about financing obligations to our (CTU) new contract and Special Ed. It does not go far enough to address all the critical needs of CPS students.”
CPS’ budget relies on $300 million from Senate Bill 1 (SB1), which was passed in May by the Illinois legislature. The monies would go toward current and past due pension payments.
The bill would also alter the education funding formula in the state.
Rauner has said on the record that he will veto the legislation. He believes that bill is a “bailout for CPS.”
Lewis said SB1 is a good start but that “it’s not the answer because it doesn’t fully fund schools not just here [Chicago] but anywhere in the state of Illinois. Why are we pitting people against one another? Why are we pitting Chicago against the suburbs or Chicago against Madison County? It should be equitable.”