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CPS Budget Cuts: Manierre Saved From Closing, Was It Worth It?

By Paul Biasco | July 25, 2013 8:40am
 Parents and staff of Manierre Elementary say they are worried about how budget cuts will affect their school, which was under threat of closing.
Manierre Budget Cuts
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OLD TOWN — Wishes came true for parents and staff at Manierre Elementary in the spring when they learned their school was saved from the Chicago Public School's mass closing.

But recent budget cuts have them questioning whether the school will ever be the same.

The small school — underutilized by CPS standards — in Old Town recently had its budget cut by $109,000 for the upcoming year and lost five full-time and one part-time position, according to CPS data released Wednesday.

Sherise McDaniel, whose daughter is headed to Lincoln Park High School in the fall, led the fight to keep Manierre open for her soon-to-be third-grader son.

She now questions if it was worth months of meetings, late nights and marches so that her son could stay in the safety of their neighborhood school.

"I didn't know it would be like this. I don't know why education has to keep taking the blows," McDaniel said. "It's a double slap in the face."

That sentiment was shared inside the classrooms.

Denise Gross-Winfield, a kindergarten teacher at Manierre, said that until last week she hadn't felt an ounce of happiness since the moment she learned her school was on the list for closure.

"It was like, 'OK, it's summer.' And, I was like wow this is weird. Being happy is such a foreign concept," she said. "And then I turned on the 10 o'clock news and that same stressed, panic, horrible feeling came over me again."

The local news broadcast was announcing 1,036 teachers would be getting pink slips from CPS the following day.

Gross-Winfield thought she would be the first one cut because Manierre's Principal David Orr had already told nontenured teachers to start looking for jobs when news of the budget cuts broke weeks earlier.

"I was checking my cellphone with a shaky hand saying, 'Oh, my God, is this going to be the call?'" she said. "I feel like it's working for the devil. It's terrible."

Orr did not respond to a request for comment.

Gross-Winfield, a mother of two, didn't lose her position thanks to a multimillion dollar federal investment to bolster pre-k through third-grade education.

That same initiative, the i3 grant, was cited as the reason Manierre was taken off the chopping block in the first place.

"It’s like the little engine that could. All this big talk about killing people and gangs and violence, and I understand it’s the grant that saved us," she said.

Manierre enrolls 350 students, but has the capacity for 960, according to CPS data.

It's also a level three school, the lowest test scores-based ranking in the CPS system.

The $450,000 in budget cuts and systemwide anger within CPS's teaching ranks toward Mayor Rahm Emanuel and central-office leadership are going to make it hard to return to work in the fall, Gross-Winfield said.

"I’m afraid to go back to school this year," she said. "I’m really worried how all of this is going to take place."

Her daughter attends Bell Elementary, a level 1 school in the North Center neighborhood.

That school is going through the same cuts, but has the backing of parents with money to keep programs afloat.

Ninety-four percent of Manierre's students are low income.

"They pay for their new art teacher," Gross-Winfield said of Bell's parents. "It's just the level of support that they get through their families, which is the polar opposite of what we are dealing with."

On Wednesday, the Chicago Public School district announced the budget for the upcoming year includes $68 million in cuts to individual schools as part of a plan to cover a $1 billion budget deficit.

"By reducing central office, administrative and operations spending, we are minimizing the impact on our schools as best we can," CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a statement.

McDaniel and others such as the education group Raise Your Hand and eight members of the City Council's Progressive Reform Caucus have called on Emanuel to declare a surplus in development funds and send that tax revenue back to public schools.

"We are putting money into this DePaul project, into Vienna beef. The mayor is finding money for everything but education," McDaniel said. "He’s actually bringing more and more people across the city together no matter what social background we have."