STEM Program Touted by Rahm at Lake View HS 'Unsustainable' With Cuts
LAKEVIEW — The school year at Lake View High School started with hope after the mayor touted it as one of five new early college STEM partnerships in the city, part of an effort to keep middle-class families from fleeing to the suburbs for high school.
But with more than $1 million cut from the budget approved Wednesday, Principal Lilith Werner said Lake View's ability to fill three new computer labs and two new science labs in the future with a quality number of teachers is questionable.
Money from the federal Race to the Top program can fund at least five Science Technology Engineering and Math program teachers for another two years, but beyond that, "Who knows?" she said.
"We were on the road to success," she said, "and this is a huge roadblock."
Werner and the local school council said the cuts could be more like $2 million, given an estimated drop in enrollment at the school and added financial burdens — such as buying janitorial supplies and toilet paper.
CPS spokeswoman Kelly Quinn said that Lake View will always be a STEM school because of funding from a separate pool of money that will be decided next month. She could not confirm that at least five teachers could be funded at Lake View because the budget is still being drafted.
Regardless of how much ultimately goes to Lake View, Quinn said the money would be used based on Werner's discretion — "the whole point of student-based budgeting," she said.
But Werner said with the decrease in overall funds, there's little flexibility in choosing where to place funds as she tries to maintain the current level of quality across the school.
"Utlimately, if you’re giving the principal autonomy, you’ve also got to give them dollars," she said. "I’m just here to fill out spreadsheets and make the budget balance."
Cuts are based on a systemwide change to per-pupil funding instead of per-position, a formula that is slashing budgets across the city. For Lake View, a Level 1 school that expected to be fine due to the mayoral investment, the cuts are "disheartening," said Jackie Rosa, the LSC community representative.
Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel pointed to the school's partnership with DePaul University as a way CPS is preparing students for the real world.
Lakeview's CPS elementary schools have had tremendous turnovers in the last 10 years, but many parents still feel wary about sending their kids to neighborhood high schools, opting instead to go private or move to the suburbs.
STEM was supposed to help with middle-class flight, according to Emanuel's office.
But with overall cuts, Rosa feels the mayor has cheated the community. All the press conferences mean nothing if the programs do not have enough money to provide support to students, she said.
"The mayor seemed so invested in the STEM program at Lake View High School," Rosa said, "but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter."
Vacant positions will not be refilled, and 12 teaching and nonteaching positions could be cut. Department chairs must take on full teaching loads, decreasing time for leadership prep, Werner said. Student activity fees will rise 25 percent, to $250 for freshmen through juniors and to $300 for seniors.
In the midst of belt-tightening, renovations of the building will continue over the summer, using $2 million in TIF funds. Improvements include the addition of new computer labs and science labs as part of the STEM push. Freshmen next year will be the second class of STEM students at the school.
"You'll have a beautiful buildout," Werner said, and the labs will be used. Cuts won't be definitive until later this summer, but she predicts it will still mean "very lean programming" for students, she said.
With this budget, she "can't honestly say" that the programs are sustainable at the current level of quality.
"Teacher morale is the lowest I've ever seen it," Werner said. "Everybody is walking around here with faces of gloom and doom. And I can’t reassure them."