CHICAGO — A new way budgets are determined and money is spent at Chicago Public Schools is being felt on the neighborhood level this week as Local School Councils are meeting for the first time to digest the changes.
Budget cuts described by local school officials as "shocking" were leading to predictions of teacher layoffs, larger classroom sizes and eliminated programs.
"We knew there'd be cuts but didn't think they'd be this deep," said William Klee, principal at Burr Elementary, 1621 N. Wabansia Ave.
For the first time, CPS is allotting funds to the schools on a per-student basis. In previous years, schools received per-position, not per-student, funding from the district's Central Office.
CPS says the old way was "an outdated formula that dictated specific numbers and types of positions to fill within schools" and that the new process gives principals more flexibility.
Schools will receive $4,429 for every student from kindergarten through third grade, $4,140 for students in fourth through eighth grade, and $5,029 for each high school student, reports Catalyst Chicago, an independent newsmagazine that covers education.
Facing a budget gap of nearly $1 billion, CPS also touts the change as a more efficient way to spend its limited dollars.
"CPS has not cut funding to any of the core programs supporting student learning: full-day kindergarten, the full school day, etc.," a CPS spokesperson said in a statement. "There are no increases to class size, and these budgets do not include any cuts to positions related to the student-based budgeting process."
But in neighborhood meetings this week, parents, local school administrators and board members say the changes are forcing hard choices that will ultimately hurt education.
"It's absolutely demoralizing; it's heartbreaking. It's distracting to teaching and learning," said Timothy Meegan, a geography and world studies teacher at Roosevelt High School, 3436 W. Wilson, where staff has been told the budget is down by $1 million.
At Burr Elementary, Klee announced at an LSC meeting Wednesday that the budget was down 22 percent, which will result in layoffs and larger class sizes.
At Lincoln Park High School, 2001 N. Orchard St., which is looking at a $1.06 million cut, Principal Michael Boraz said he was considering blocking freshman from taking an eighth class, as about 65 percent of them do.
Another possibility is creating a senior "seminar/advisory" with 80 to 100 students per class as a cost-cutting measure. The class would take the place of electives that are not needed for graduation, meaning those teachers would lose their jobs.
CPS said that in addition to "giving principals greater autonomy and authority in deciding how to allocate resources," the student-based budgeting "will create greater consistency in funding across the district, replacing several different formulas across different school types with one simple formula."
“We have to make some difficult choices in order to close this $1 billion deficit and avoid devastating cuts at our schools, which is why we must use every available resource to protect investments that support our students and their learning,” CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said earlier this month.
As a former principal, she added, "I know that student based budgeting will give our school leaders unprecedented control over their budget, which will allow them to better influence outcomes at their schools and thus allow CPS to better hold them more accountable for results.”
The deficit "was caused in part by flat or declining revenues and a $400 million increase in annual pension payments," according to CPS.
The latest budget cuts come less than a month after the Board of Education voted to close 50 schools. That move was touted as saving the district $43 million annually in operating spending, and $437 over 10 years.