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Pritzker School in Wicker Park Feels Sting, But Not Burn of Budget Cuts

By Alisa Hauser | June 20, 2013 9:30am
 Members of Pritzker School's Local school Council voted 7-1 in support of approving a 2013-14 School Year Budget that's just under 4 percent less than the previous school year.
Pritzker School LSC Meeting June 19
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WICKER PARK —  A top-rated elementary school that brought protesting parents from closing schools to its doorstep hasn't been completely immune to budget cuts by Chicago Public Schools.

Though, as it turns out, the pinch is not as pronounced at A.N. Pritzker School at 2009 W. Schiller St. in Wicker Park, which CPS defines as a high-performing Level 1 school.

In a sparsely-attended emergency meeting Wednesday, members of the Local School Council voted 7-1 to approve the 2013-14 School Year Budget, which is down $193,953, or almost four percent, from the previous year.

The 2012-13 Pritzker budget was $4,971,297; the 2014 budget is $4,777,344.

Assistant principal Barbara Abdullah-Smith said the cuts will mean less money for after school tutoring, instructional supplies, equipment and, at least for now, no new textbooks can be purchased.

Whereas other neighborhood schools experienced much steeper cuts and layoffs, the bulk of the loss of funding between last year and the coming year's budget comes from the loss of $110,129 grant dollars from the No Child Left Behind federal program.

To meet the criteria for No Child Left Behind grant dollars, there needs to be at least 41 percent of students living below the poverty index and Pritzker is "between 37 and 40 percent," Smith said.

According to a CPS listing for the school, 54 percent of Pritzker's 664 students are low-income. However, Smith said the No Child Left Behind dollars are "determined by a formula" and "the [poverty] index is trending down," at Pritzker. 

Principal Joenile Albert-Reese told the group that $90,000 of the No Child Left Behind dollars were used on a single teacher's salary, but the position will be saved because the teacher's salary will come from the student-based budgeting portion of the budget in the new year.

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received per-position, not per-student, funding from the district's Central Office based on what CPS said was "an outdated formula that dictated specific numbers and types of positions to fill within their schools."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.

In other business, LSC member Mitch Hutton complained that the Board of Education has mandated recess but does not leave room in the budget to pay for it.

"If they are mandating recess, they should pay for it," Hutton said.

In the 2012-13 School Year, Pritzker spent around $80,000 to employ eight part-time people who worked for 2.5 days each week and made $14.37 an hour to work recess, Smith said.

By laying off the team of part-time workers and outsourcing to the YMCA next year, which will send staff to supervise recess, the school will save about $10,000, Smith said.

Before the meeting, parent Christina Terrell, a parent advisory council member (which is a separate group from the LSC) said that a least $3,000 will be lost in parent workshop programs, where consultants led sessions on organization, parenting, bullying and other topics.

Terrell had hoped to start a film series next year featuring documentaries such as "Finding Kind," though said licensing fees of $500 have put it out of the budget.

Unlike other schools that will have to pay for new expenses that CPS is passing on to schools such as cleaning supplies and toilet paper through their student-based budget, Pritzker is fortunate to have additional income from renting out its school.

Some $8,000 for toilet paper, soap and other supplies will come from rental income, Smith said.

Reese informed the group that she'd received two calls that week from neighbors inquiring about using the parking lot for a birthday party and parking for out-of-town wedding guests.

Overall, the mood was not as despondent as at other schools.

"We are down quite a bit, but some schools, they are down by $800,000," Smith said before Hutton interrupted her.

Said Hutton: "Everyone looks at us as a premiere school, if we don't make a stand now.....  that [recess] money should be used for a climbing wall, better tables in the cafeteria, not thrown away because the board won't pay for recess."

LSC chair Kathy McNamara said before the meeting that one full-time and two part-time positions were "spared" by using money from the school's rental income.

Pritzker rents out its auditorium to churches, its gymnasium to sports groups, and its parking lot to events such as the Chicago Flea Market and a new food market coming in July, McNamara said

"We need to put on our thinking caps and get more creative about fundraising," McNamara said.