LAKEVIEW — Blaine Elementary's Local School Council wanted to send a message to CPS Thursday night after hearing that a $600,000-plus shortfall would mean the loss of seven staffers: They will not stand for the cuts.
The group voted to reject the budget, with Principal Troy LaRaviere abstaining, and was loudly applauded as the community agreed to fight for more money from the system.
Expected losses at Blaine include the elimination of art, music and a middle school teacher position, LaRaviere told the group. Nonstaffing expenses must be cut by 37 percent.
"It’s not just a little bit inadequate," said Tami Sirkin, a parent rep on the LSC. "It's grossly inadequate."
The decision came after about an hour of comments and questions from parents and teachers who expressed frustration at the lack of choice — and the systemwide issues lying behind it.
A new formula based on per-pupil funding instead of per-position funding has slashed budgets across the city, with schools gaining the burden of paying for expenses like toilet paper and extra substitutes.
Blaine's students are financially better off than most in CPS, with less than 15 percent low-income, and parental fundraising has been supplementing the school for years. Previously, the fundraising has helped pay for additional teaching assistants and funded full days of kindergarten before all schools required it.
But the LSC opted to take a stand for Blaine to protest the effect of cuts on all city public schools, refusing to consider ways parents could rehire seven staff. Some said having Blaine parents cover lost funds would pit the school against others in the system. Additionally, once parents start paying for a program, they'd never stop, they said.
LaRaviere said he was "vehement" about not discussing fundraising because he did not think it's the parents' responsibility to pay for "absolute musts" like music.
"If we set this precedent of 'the parents will do this,' let's just call it what it is" — the privatization of public schools, said Tony Porfirio, LSC chair and a parent rep.
In addition to lost positions, LaRaviere said the new funding system stunts options for future hires despite CPS's message of increased principal autonomy.
For example, Blaine may be able to hire a drama teacher with the new budget — keeping the music and art teachers as fine arts option is too expensive because of the teachers' experience, he said — but the ad might read like this: "Drama teacher wanted. Must be straight out of college with no master's degree. Must be in your first year of teaching. Experienced teachers need not apply," he said.
"I may not actually advertise it that way, but that’s the result," he said. "I can’t hire experienced teachers."
The LSC also voted to send a letter to Ravenswood-Ridge Elementary Network Chief Craig Benes demanding that the shortfall be covered. Approving the new budget, they said, "would have failed 950 students" and "would have failed our teachers who deserve appropriate class sizes and more professional development."
"We insist that [Blaine] continue to receive the funds to remain a top performing school," the letter said.
Final budget decisions will not happen until later this summer, and parent Albert Tsai was optimistic: if schools across the entire city rejects cuts as Blaine did, more money will come in, he said.
But if CPS does not fix cuts he considers to be "significant and tragic," he will be forced to consider a move to the suburbs, he said.
"You have to do what's best for your kids," he said.