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CPS Budget Cuts: Roosevelt Council at Odds Over How to Manage $1.1M Loss

 Roosevelt High School staff members attend a local school council meeting to discuss the school's budget cuts.
Roosevelt High School staff members attend a local school council meeting to discuss the school's budget cuts.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

ALBANY PARK — Facing $1.1 million in budget cuts for the 2013-14 school year, Roosevelt High School will be forced to lay off staff members.

But exactly which employees to let go was the subject of heated debate at a recent Local School Council meeting.

Principal Ricardo Trujillo's preliminary budget showed a loss of three teachers, on top of six teachers already leaving their jobs and another six he might be forced to cut. Classes would average 35 students after the cuts.

"That's hard for us to hear. It's less hard than what some of my colleagues are facing right now," he told the approximately 50 people in attendance, an audience largely made up of Roosevelt's faculty.

Cheerleading uniforms, buses to transport students to non-conference games and teacher overtime pay also came under the ax, Trujillo said.

The education advocacy group Raise Your Hand has collected information from more than 90 schools showing more than $71 million in budgets cuts, with Kelly High School the hardest hit at $4 million lost.

Ray Gora, teacher representative on the council, challenged why Trujillo wants to keep support staff such as two assistant principals, a technology coordinator, budget manager and programmer (scheduler).

"We've got a budget manager and technology coordinator and we're going to lay off three teachers?" Gora said.

Gora noted that during his 17-year tenure, assistant principals had at times also assumed budgeting and programming duties.

"And the school managed just fine. And we were off probation. And we had 1,800 students," he said. "It worked in the past. We could work harder. We could work smarter."

"We didn't have REACH in the past," Trujillo countered, referencing a new teacher evaluation system implemented by Chicago Public Schools.

The evaluations, Trujillo said, take up 75 to 80 percent of an administrator's time. Additional responsibilities such as budgeting would create 20-hour work days and "no quality of life, no quality of work" for those individuals.

Lesley Pinto, an English teacher at Roosevelt, argued that keeping ancillary staff on the payroll during a budget crisis was fiscally irresponsible.

"When I make cuts at home, I cut Netflix, I shop at Aldi not Whole Foods. What I'm hearing is we're still shopping at Whole Foods," she said. "We need teachers in this building and more specifically in the classroom."

Responded Trujillo: "Don't think this is not for me a painful decision. Yes, the classroom is the most important place ... other things happen at a school. You have to keep the lights on. You have to keep the doors open. Every non-teacher lost means services lost."

To applause from his colleagues, Timothy Meegan, union delegate at Roosevelt, asked the council to only approve a budget that maintained all positions with direct student contact, to cancel night school, cancel supplies and expand the workload of assistant principals. He also urged members of the Roosevelt community to put pressure on the mayor and aldermen to use TIF district money for schools.

"Let's do it," council chairwoman Maria Ortiz said of joining the fight to use TIF money. "We were given money to renovate our school, why not money to renovate our teachers?"

State Rep. Deborah Mell (D-40th), who attended the nearly three-hour meeting, vowed to investigate the potential for using TIF money. "I will be calling CPS tomorrow. This is not right, this is unacceptable."

Mell also said more work needed to be done on the state level where, if it hadn't been for an unexpected boost in revenue, the Legislature would have slashed $500 million from education funding across the state.

"We're going to look at inequities in school funding," she said. "The quality of the education you get shouldn't be dependent on where you live."

For Roosevelt, the budget battle comes at a crucial junction.

The school had hoped to take a step toward moving off probation, graduating from probation to good standing this year.

"It is frustrating to think we're going to lose the resources that helped us get there," Trujillo said following the meeting.

"Nobody wants large classes. Nobody wants to lose teachers."

Ultimately the council opted to delay a vote on Trujillo's budget, while voting to send a letter to the Chicago Board of Education rejecting the budget and asking for money to be restored to 2013 levels. The council will reconvene at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday to revisit staffing recommendations.

"It's a big surprise, this budget," Ortiz said. "To me, this is like a family. Why would we let this budget get in our way? We have to work it out."

Because Roosevelt is on probation, final say on the school's budget comes not from the council but from CPS.