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CPS Budget Cuts: Burley Elementary to Dump Art Program After $500K Loss

By Serena Dai | June 20, 2013 8:16am | Updated on June 20, 2013 2:15pm
 Burley Principal Catherine Plocher presented a budget based on new CPS per-pupil funding. The budget includes nearly $600,000 in cuts and the loss of five jobs.
Burley Budget Cuts
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LAKEVIEW — Sarah Mitchell left the Burley Elementary Local School Council meeting Wednesday night with tears in her eyes.

Her daughters have attended the school over the last 10 years, and a nearly $600,000 budget shortfall at Burley means five staff positions will be cut and her fourth-grader Sophia's favorite class, art, will be eliminated.

Sophia and her older sister Caitlyn hugged their mother as she wiped her face.

"I didn't know it was going to hit so hard," Mitchell said. "It's sad."

Principal Catherine Plocher presented a budget to the council at Burley, 1630 W. Barry Ave., based on a new Chicago Public Schools system in which money is allocated on a per-student basis instead of per-position, a formula that is slashing budgets at schools across the city.

The $2.35 million given to Burley for the 2014 school year was $596,200 less than last year's overall budget, with a $421,200 cut in the staffing budget, Plocher said.

In addition to the decrease in money, a change in funding process means the school must also take on new costs such as janitorial supplies and teacher benefit days that CPS previously covered.

Several positions were converted to part-time positions in the new budget, including gym and Spanish teachers. An assistant principal will assume teaching duties, as well. The music program will also suffer the loss of the show choir so that the money can be redirected, Plocher said.

But the art program will effectively be killed because the school can no longer afford to pay even a part-time art teacher. In addition, both a math specialist and a reading specialist will be lost — two positions that are not counted in the five lost jobs.

"We'll have some gaps in coverage," Plocher said. "We’re going to look for external enrichment and work with those classes."

More after-school clubs might have to become fee-based, and activities with fewer than five interested students will probably be eliminated. A lot of furniture probably won't be replaced, with the furniture budget cut to $17,000 from last year's $48,000. And the school will rely on email more, after the postage budget was cut in half to $500.

The outline Plocher presented also included areas where she hoped parents would be able to pick up some of the shortfalls. She budgeted just $2,000 for small building repairs knowing that she'd have to ask for help from Friends of Burley, a non-profit parent group that raises money for the school.

And with the goal of maintaining some art, music, Spanish and gym for all students, she hoped Friends of Burley could raise enough money to pay for some outside enrichment programs. The group helps with some costs in technology and with a music program by Merit School of Music.

But Friends of Burley executive committee member Zina Risk said there's no way the group will be able to cover the "absolutely ridiculous" cuts at the school.

"That's not a long-term solution," said Risk, who has two children at Burley. "I don't understand how this meshes with helping schools."

The budget could still change, though whether or not more money will arrive is admittedly nebulous, Plocher said. Burley, a neighborhood school that must accept all children who live nearby, could also lose or gain money based on enrollment in the fall. Final decisions will happen over the summer.

Several on the council asked if rejecting or not voting on the budget would send a message to CPS after Wendy Katten, director of educational advocacy group Raise Your Hand and a parent at Burley, mentioned that other school councils had protested cuts by rejecting budgets.

But Burley's council ultimately voted to approve the budget and write a letter of protest to the CPS central office. 

"The people currently holding those positions [being eliminated] have a combined almost 40 years experience at our school," said Carolyn Skibba, a teacher rep on the board. "For this budget to put our school in the position to lose people like that is criminal."