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Kenwood Academy Loses $1.2 Million From Budget as Enrollment Spikes

By Sam Cholke | June 26, 2013 7:29am
 Kenwood Academy Principal Gregory Jones (right) cut $1.2 million from the high school's budget even as enrollment is expected to increase.
Kenwood Academy Principal Gregory Jones (right) cut $1.2 million from the high school's budget even as enrollment is expected to increase.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

KENWOOD — Kenwood Academy will cut $1.2 million from its budget as enrollment swells well beyond the high school’s capacity.

Principal Gregory Jones said 1,869 students have registered to attend the school at 5015 S. Blackstone Ave. next year.

“That’s a problem because our building capacity is 1,646,” Jones said.

Jones said he expects the enrollment to dip in the beginning of the year — approximately 100 registered students never attended class last year.

“Budgets are typically cut based on enrollment — you lose teachers typically when you lose students,” Jones said. “Strangely, here at Kenwood our enrollment is scheduled to increase but we’re losing money.”

He said he expects Kenwood will have to admit an undetermined number of students expelled from local charter schools that the public school cannot turn away.

“Will their dollars follow them here to Kenwood?” Jones said, adding that the fluid enrollment numbers make it difficult to plan teaching positions.

Two teaching positions and a vacant teaching post are eliminated next year in the budget Jones presented to the local school council for approval on Monday. His budget also eliminates two positions in the administrative office and cuts the salary of one administrator by $60,000.

“We were able to save three to four teaching positions by making some leaner cuts,” Jones said.

He declined to comment on which staff members would be let go because he had not informed the individuals yet. He said he is not sure whether the cuts will hold when Chicago Public Schools reviews the enrollment numbers next year before finalizing the budget.

“We got five new teaching positions in September of last year, so I don’t think this is set yet,” Jones said.

New programs at Kenwood are expected to launch next year as expected, including a biomedical science and robotics engineering courses. The school will double the size of its orchestra program and add an argumentative writing course.

Ineffective courses for students struggling with the curriculum will be eliminated, including an algebra course and the isolated reading course, which Jones said was not working and the academic literature is no longer supported.

Jones said he was able to save Advanced Placement science courses by paying the teachers overtime to stay after school to teach the lab portion of the extended classes.

CPS has shifted many of the costs of operating schools onto the individual schools, putting Jones and other principals in the difficult position of deciding between teachers and toilet paper. Jones said the change added $104,000 to Kenwood’s budget deficit.

Budgets have also shifted to paying schools a set amount for each student enrolled. The change forced Jones and other principals to adapt quickly to the new method of accounting in the short two weeks they had to draft a budget.

“I feel better today than I did on June 6,” Jones said of getting his $13.5 million budget from CPS. “In my professional career I’ve never felt that bad — we were expecting a higher per-pupil amount.”

Despite the cuts, the local school council approved Jones' proposal unanimously.

“Luckily we got the budget as soon as it was ready and he’s been talking with us about it continuously,” said Charice Williams, a parent representative on the council.

Ismail Turay, chairman of the council, also approved of the budget, calling a seventh member of the council to come and vote so Mason’s proposal would not be delayed.

He did express his concerns about attendance next year, one of the few things keeping Kenwood from being named a top-ranking school.

“A lot of times I see the kids sitting in their parent’s car combing their hair and I look at my watch and it’s 8:03 a.m.,” Turay said.

Jones said the attendance level was already up to 89.3 percent and he was confident he could work with students and parents to get it over the 90 percent threshold to achieve the school system's top ranking.

“The vast majority of students are late is because their parents are dropping them off late,” Jones said.

Jones said he is working with parents and expects to hit the goals for attendance next year.