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CPS Budget Cuts: Audubon LSC Says 'No,' Even With $100K Sweetener

 Members of Audubon Elementary School's LSC debate whether to vote for or against the school's 2013-14 budget.
Members of Audubon Elementary School's LSC debate whether to vote for or against the school's 2013-14 budget.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

ROSCOE VILLAGE — With a vote of seven "nays" and an abstention from Principal Ken Fitzner, Audubon's Local School Council voted Wednesday not to approve the school's 2013-14 budget as presented by Chicago Public Schools, even after the district added $100,000 to the elementary's bottom line.

"To me, that $100,000 is 'be quiet' money," said Lourdes Valenzuela, LSC faculty representative.

Audubon, 3500 N. Hoyne Ave., now joins a growing number of schools — including Bell, Blaine, and Whitney Young — that have drawn a line in the sand with CPS.

"Once you say it's OK, they keep giving less and less," said Alex Pramenko, Audubon LSC chair.

"I just think it's the right thing to do," he said of the vote.

In mid-June, the Audubon LSC approved a budget that was $400,000 less than that for the 2012-13 school year, a gap the group largely closed by accepting a proposed disbursement of $253,000 from Friends of Audubon, the school's non-profit fundraising arm.

Even with the one-time payout from Friends of Audubon, which would have covered the salaries of an art and a music teacher, members of the LSC  said the school would be running on fumes, forced to eliminate a number of after-school, arts and math programs.

"Everything else that's nice and makes us a Blue Ribbon school is cut," said Jill Bass, LSC parent rep.

On July 2, the LSC convened again, this time to rescind their initial approval. CPS responded by handing the school an extra $100,000 — one of 135 schools to have between $35,000 and $100,000 added to their budgets — and the council met Wednesday night to discuss the budget for a third time.

"I don't want to play a game of chicken to see who moves first," said Valenzuela. But at the same time, she said, CPS is "trying to see how far they can push us. They're offering no solutions — they're putting it all on the back of the principal, the parents and the teachers."

Fitzner said he was told that Audubon received the $100,000 because its per-pupil allotment had been slashed so dramatically from the previous year. Serving as a pilot site for the per-pupil funding system in 2012 — now the norm for CPS schools — Audubon was given $5,600 per student that year. That figure dropped in 2013 to $4,429 per student in grades K-3 and $4,140 per student in grades 4-8.

"Somehow they felt that warranted the extra money," said Fitzner, who was told the district had "emptied the reserves" in supplementing the budgets of the 135 schools.

"I don't think we'll see more from CPS — that's just my gut," said the principal. "But I didn't think we'd see $100,000."

Fitzner made a case for accepting the windfall — allowing him to afford an art teacher and perhaps a clerk — as well as the proposed 2013 budget, with the potential for requesting money from Friends of Audubon to pay for the school's music teacher.

"It's not productive to start a second year in chaos," he said, referring to last September's teachers strike. "What I would love to do is open the school with positions whole."

Though tempted to put a band-aid on Audubon's 2013 finances, LSC members also recognized an opportunity to make a broader statement.

"Where do we fit in this larger advocacy movement?" question Alicia Haller, community representative.

Parent coalition Raise Your Hand is pushing for the mayor to release a surplus of Tax Increment Financing dollars. The Common Sense Coalition of LSCs for Fair Funding aims to ensure that all CPS schools receive funding that meets the needs of their students.

"We need a short-term and a long-term strategy," said Haller.

Accepting the 2013 budget, one that funded the school at the "bare minimum," was not a "fair trade" for the $100,000, she said.

Maria Griffith, parent rep, objected to the reliance on Friends of Audubon to provide basic education services.

"CPS should maintain," said Griffith. The Friends of Audubon's "role is to enhance" the school's offerings with "perks and extras," not essentials, she said.

"It seems irresponsible to pass a budget ... that's not maintaining what we've worked really hard to get to," she concluded.

In the end, Pramenko put a motion on the table to approve the 2013-14 budget. The nay votes were unanimous, save for Fitzner's abstention.

"We're not trying to make your life miserable," Bass said to the principal. "We want the best for our kids and know you do too."