LAKEVIEW — Representatives from more than 30 local school councils gathered Tuesday to reject system-wide budget cuts that have forced some schools to dump programs that many considered indispensable.
As elected officials, they said, they have a responsibility to oppose "devastating" cuts that impact communities.
"We've been presented with no solution, and there's no sign of a resolution in sight," said Tony Porfirio, chair of Lakeview's Blaine Elementary.
Blaine Elementary's LSC invited other school councils from across the city to Tuesday morning's protest, which they want to take on the road over the summer to showcase cuts to music, art and more.
Blaine rejected its school's budget after a $600,000 shortfall and pledged to organize other LSCs to fight cuts — part of a systemwide change to per-pupil funding that has been impacting schools across the city.
In an email statement, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she shares the frustration and said the cuts could not be avoided without pension reform or help from the state. The system "can't cut our way out of this crisis or avoid impacts on our schools."
"We need parents, local school councils, elected officials and school communities to join us as partners to fight for lasting solutions to our financial challenges," she said.
Many of those involved in Tuesday's gathering were parents and community members from high performing North Side schools, and elected officials including state Rep. Ann Williams, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and representatives from Illinois Senate President John Cullerton also attended.
Blaine Principal Troy LaRaviere outlined the two pillars of the new group: Make education a priority, and make education a "shared responsibility" — and not just "a press release or a nice speech," he said.
The city needs to show priorities with money, he said, mentioning the $7 million in TIF funds going to a new arena for DePaul University. He also pointed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's assertion that the state's pension crisis was partially to blame for the CPS money problems. Blaming the shortfall on pension funds is a "disturbing" way to pit education against former public servants, LaRaviere said.
"They’re trying to create a new normal, and we can’t let that happen unless it’s our new normal," LaRaviere said.
Many of the nearly 100 people who attended Tuesday complained of cuts at their own schools.
Kelly High School in Brighton Park lost $4 million and 33 teachers and staff. A representative for the Northwest Side's Solomon Elementary said it was a struggle to discuss lost positions at the school "without bursting into tears." And a representative from Murphy Elementary, a fine arts magnet student school in Irving Park that lost about $600,000, said the largely low-income school cannot rely on parent fundraising to bring back lost programming.
"We're really at our wit's end," she said.
After Blaine sent a letter rejecting their budget, Byrd-Bennett has been in constant contact with the school council. A representative from Whitney Young, which also rejected its budget, also said Byrd-Bennett has been in touch.
But the groups said that if the protests this summer don't force elected officials into a solution, they will gather again to brainstorm new tactics, said Gina Abbatemarco, a member of Blaine's council.
"The LSCs are empowered by state government to act on budgets," she said. "We are exercising that power."