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CPS Budget Cuts at Audubon Top $400K: 'My Jaw Dropped,' Principal Says

By Patty Wetli | June 18, 2013 11:56am
 CPS budget cuts at Audubon School top $400,000.
Audubon School budget cuts
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ROSCOE VILLAGE — Ken Fitzner, first-year principal of Audubon School, knew budget cuts were coming but "the extent to which the cuts are happening is shocking," he said at Monday night's Local School Council meeting.

"When I saw these numbers, my jaw dropped," Fitzner said as he presented Audubon's financials for the 2013-14 school year to the 50 attendees. "These are below state foundations."

The net loss for the school amounts to $400,912, which would translate into four to six teaching positions being cut and class sizes rising to 37-45 students, according to Fitzner. Eliminating one of two seventh-grade teachers would result in 61 students in a single homeroom, he said.

"There's a vision I have for the school: That kids get an individualized education that plays to their strengths," Fitzner said. "You can't do that with 41 kids in a class."

The budget cuts, which are happening across the district, are largely due to a new system in which CPS is allocating funds to schools on a per-student basis. In previous years, schools were allotted per-position, not per-student, funding from the district's Central Office.

The education advocacy group Raise Your Hand has tallied $63 million in cuts from 73 reporting schools thus far.

Audubon actually served as one of the pilot schools for the per-pupil system in 2012, receiving $5,600 for each student.

"That was great," said Fitzner. "We were able to get more positions."

But the funding amounts that CPS rolled out for 2013 are considerably less: $4,429 per student in grades K-3; $4,140 per student in grades 4-8.

"If there is a formula" for how the district arrived at those numbers "they haven't shared it," Fitzner said.

In addition to per-pupil losses, "college ready funds" provided by the district in 2012 — used by Audubon to pay for books, math instruction software and a popular partnership with Redmoon Theater — along with money to support the longer school day have also been eliminated by CPS, he said.

The district has also jettisoned funds for maintenance and cleaning supplies and substitute teachers.

"At this point they've said, 'Now you're on your own.' It's all in per-pupil now," said Fitzner.

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.

"'Choices' — if I've heard that a million times in the past week ... . I don't think I've slept for a week thinking about the choices we can make," Fitzner said.

Told to "be creative" by CPS, Fitzner's proposal to the LSC, which ultimately has approval powers over his budget, focused on salvaging teaching positions and preserving class size through the use of discretionary funds and an assist from a non-profit parent group, Friends of Audubon.

"We're here to bridge the gap in funding," said Lolita Sereleas, president of Friends of Audubon, citing recent disbursements of $22,000 to paint the school and $62,000 for air conditioning.

For 2013, the group is kicking in $253,000 to pay for art and music teachers — which Fitzner said he prizes for offering students the opportunity to experience success outside of traditional academic subjects — as well as ancillary staff still to be determined.

The principal and LSC continue to weigh the "Sophie's Choice" of deciding between paying for office support staff or retaining teaching assistants known as "intervention specialists."

Sereleas made it clear that the Friends of Audubon funding was merely a stop-gap measure.

"That's just for this year. We stand to have this same discussion next year," she said. "If we don't fundraise together, we will lose positions next year."

After passing Fitzner's budget recommendations, the LSC expressed little satisfaction in having made the best of a difficult situation.

"We really need to organize and put pressure on our political officials," said LSC parent representative Jill Bass. "It's child abuse what [CPS is] offering us."