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CPS Budget Cuts Protested by Brighton Park Students, Faculty, Parents

By Casey Cora | July 18, 2013 8:58am
 The schools stand to lose millions in funding next year, officials say.
Brighton Park Neighborhood Council CPS Meeting
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BRIGHTON PARK — Hundreds of neighbors packed into a steamy elementary school auditorium to decry the new CPS budget system, saying the measure results in million-dollar losses for public education and eliminates dozens of teaching jobs.

Marta Contreras, a Brighton Park resident and mother of two kids at Shields Elementary School, wanted to know why "Davis and other schools in our community must be weakened by budget cuts." 

The CPS officials on hand at Wednesday's meeting at the school, 4520 S. Rockwell Ave., said they couldn't answer.

Phil Hampton, executive director of the CPS family and community engagement department, said district officials would continue meeting with community leaders to address their concerns, but his assurances seemed to fall on deaf ears, as he was was interrupted by loud boos and chants during his brief remarks.

"I would beg of you to work collectively with us and our elected officials," Hampton said.

Wednesday's meeting was called by the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.

For the first time, CPS is allotting funds to the schools on a per-student basis, which shakes out like this: $4,429 per student in grades K-3, $4,140 per student in grades 4-8, and $5,029 per student in high school.

In Brighton Park, Local School Councils and faculty members say the fallout will be devastating.

Together, the cuts would total roughly $7.5 million— $4 million at  Thomas Kelly High School, $1 million at Davis Elementary, $500,000 at Burroughs Elementary $370,000 at Shields Elementary, $200,000 at Shields Middle School, $300,000 at Brighton Park Elementary, $500 at Columbia Explorer's Academy and $100,000 at Gunsalus Academy.

The cuts would also eliminate upward of 40 teaching jobs and two-dozen non-teaching positions from the schools, the groups said.

While the vibe at Wednesday's meeting sometimes veered into anger and frustration, some of the elected officials invited to the stage gave the crowd of about 500 cause for optimism.

Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia called on city leaders to release TIF money to help solve the CPS budget crisis, Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) told the crowd the city council's new eight-strong progressive caucus had their back and State Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) surprised everyone with a $210,000 check to help renovate Kelly Park.

Sandoval took aim at schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett and Ald. George Cardenas (12th) for their absences and said the CPS cuts were an "embarrassment" and a "shame."

"It is a shame that [Bennett] did not have time for today for the Latino community. She did not have time today for the Brighton Park community. She did not have time for schools on the Southwest Side of the city," Sandoval said.

Per-pupil budgeting, only part of the funding used at the city's public schools, is expected to save the district money as it continues battling a major deficit that hovers around $1 billion, officials said.

For its part, the district has said it's cut $600 million from its Central Office since 2011, but the claim has been dismantled by Catalyst Chicago.

Many at Wednesday's meeting were fuming mad about hundreds of thousands of dollars in what they perceived as "hush money" offered by CPS to hundreds of schools to help lessen the impact of the looming cuts.

CPS leaders have said the payments, which were rejected by a trio of North Side schools, are part of an effort to soften the blow of what could be drastic cuts when school starts Aug. 26.

Quoting a CPS spokeswoman, the Sun-Times reported that 135 schools "would get $35,000, $70,000 or $100,000 if their draft budgets decreased more than 4 percent on top of enrollment changes, or cut “significant” bilingual or magnet cluster positions, or decreased more than 2 percent and fell below a “certain threshold in the per-pupil amount.”"

CPS officials have said the school budgets are only drafts at this point. The Board of Education is expected to vote on the CPS budget at its August meeting.

At Wednesday's meeting, community leaders again highlighted the need for renovations to Kelly Park, a public park that's in such bad shape the school's champion soccer team has refused to practice there for years.

In order for the Chicago Park District to consider the estimated $3.4 million overhaul to the field, groups requesting the renovations must raise roughly two-thirds of the cost, through a mix of private donations and funding from state and local officials. The Park District would then chip in the rest.

So far, groups in the neighborhood — considered as one of the city's most "park-poor" areas — have only raised a few thousand bucks.

As Sandoval posed on stage with an oversized novelty check for park renovations, a few voices could be heard through the roaring applause.

"We need more," they yelled.