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Bucktown CPS Principal: 'We Knew There'd Be Cuts, Didn't Think This Deep'

By Alisa Hauser | June 13, 2013 10:25am
 Burr School in Bucktown will see significant budget cuts in the 2013-14 school year, it was announced at a Local School Council meeting Wednesday.
Burr Elementary School to See Budget Cuts
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BUCKTOWN —  School closings, as it's turned out, were only the beginning.

Burr Elementary School, a top-rated neighborhood school at 1621 W. Wabansia Ave. in Bucktown, will see an almost 22 percent overall budget cut resulting in layoffs and larger class sizes, it was announced at a Local School Council meeting Wednesday.

"I don't know who until early July or mid-July," Burr Principal William Klee told parents about looming staffing cuts at a packed LSC meeting that ran nearly three hours. 

Klee called the process "a difficult, hard decision that hurts us all."

In the 2013-14 school year, Burr's overall budget (from a General Education Fund, CPS, state and federal sources) will be slashed by $365,853.

From all four sources, the 2012-13 Burr budget was $1,685,767; the 2014 budget is $1,319,914.

Klee explained the most significant change in the new budget: for the first time, CPS would be allotting funds to the schools on a per-student basis.

In previous years, principals received per-position, not per-student, funding from the district's Central Office based on what CPS said was "an outdated formula that dictated specific numbers and types of positions to fill within their schools." Teacher salaries were irrelevant to the individual schools, but now they will be responsible for them in their budgets.

The district says that the new approach will give principals more flexibility.

Budget cuts from the CPS Fund will impact Burr's Japanese language, special education and bilingual programs. Klee said three part-time positions would be eliminated in those programs, while another full (or two part-time) positions would be eliminated from the nonspecialty programs.

"Japanese is at the heart of our magnet school status, bilingual is a vulnerable population and special ed is important. None of these are less priority than the other," Klee said.

While class sizes at Burr currently average around 25 students, Klee said the budget changes would bump classes up to 28-29 students.

In addition to funding cuts, parents digested "unexpected expenses" that CPS was passing on to local schools such as the purchasing of cleaning supplies like mops and toilet paper, which Klee said could run as high as $11,000 per year.

Excluding maternity or long-term medical absences, schools will also be responsible for footing the bill for three days of substitute teacher pay if teachers exceed their allowed seven sick days.

Burr has 258 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and is considered 70 percent utilized by CPS.

As both a neighborhood school and a "magnet cluster" due to its Japanese language program, the Bucktown school is in demand, with 520 students on its waiting list, the majority (309) are seeking admission into kindergarten, Klee said.

After the meeting, Klee said that  "we knew there'd be cuts but didn't think they'd be this deep."

A large portion of the meeting was also devoted to the discussion of a "split" classroom for first and second grades in the coming year — an arrangement where students from both grades would be educated together in the same room. Parents said they only learned of the possibility last week.

After the meeting, a Bucktown parent who wished not to be named said, "We're just worried because we don't know if our daughter will learn as much in a split class and while we could fundraise [for a new class], it's not a viable option or fair to everyone."

Humboldt Park resident Colleen Dillon, co-founder of Friends of Burr, the school's fundraising arm, said, "It's hard to see parents frustrated and you wonder if they want to stay in split schools."

Dillon said as a magnet cluster, Burr gets money from CPS for the Japanese program, which had two full-time Japanese teachers in the 2011-12 school year. This year the program lost a part-time  teacher, Dillon said, and next year, another part-time position will be lost, too.

"They are chipping away at our Japanese program ... . We feel like CPS is stacking the odds against neighborhood schools and it's disheartening. They're doing nothing for neighbor schools except destroying them," Dillon said.

Dillon said she chose Burr six years ago because it was "an unknown gem" and said she felt "lucky we go to Burr because there are no more neighborhood schools in Humboldt Park."

Dillon called the budget cuts "a road bump" and  "disappointing" but vowed to "keep fighting." 

"The one positive thing is that it's forcing us to work together rather than staying in our own schools. We all need to band together citywide and get an elected school board," Dillon said.

Though Wednesday was expected to be Burr's final LSC meeting for the year, the council will host an "emergency meeting" on June 18 to vote on the CPS Fund portion of the budget, which impacts Burr's  Japanese, special ed and bilingual programs.

In other action, an LSC vote on whether to abolish uniforms was deadlocked. Seventh grade student Arani Shearrill will get the chance at the June 18 meeting to reintroduce a proposal to implement a dress code rather than mandatory uniforms.

Burr teachers had voted 27-14 in support of abolishing the uniform. The change needs the support of the LSC as well, Shearrill said.