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CPS Budget Cuts: Burley Parents 'Resentful' of Reliance on Parent Funds

By Serena Dai | August 5, 2013 8:58am
 Burley Elementary's local school council on Thursday.
Burley Elementary's local school council on Thursday.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

LAKEVIEW — Burley Elementary Principal Catherine Plocher does not want to bring up the school's parent donation organization, Friends of Burley.

But with a $500,000 budget shortfall, school officials are considering asking parents to fund a lost art program, part of a gym class and subject specialists. 

In total, Burley would need the parent organization to contribute some $200,000 if efforts to rally CPS for more funds don't work, Plocher said at a local school council meeting.

Some of that money would go toward programs parents were already funding, like a music program run by Merit School of Music, but it would also help the school fulfill basic needs.

"I don't personally feel that the 'Friends Of' of any school should be expected by the City of Chicago to contractually fund what we need," Plocher said. "I'm still pushing hard to get additional funding for those areas."

It's a potential solution that builds resentment among parents, said parent Amy Shulman, who's also on the board of Friends of Burley. She already knows five students in her child's first grade classes who have left for the suburbs.

Families at Burley, 1630 W. Barry Ave., are better off than most in CPS, with about 17 percent of its student body qualifying as low-income, compared to 87 percent systemwide.

While officials have never explicitly said parents must make up the gaps, many parents believe it's the only way to maintain quality at the school.

"If you don't give, your kids suffer, but then CPS wins," Shulman said. "Does the mayor not care that people leave [the city]?"

And though the school needs financial support more than ever, parents are hesitant to give when they feel they have no control over how funds are allocated, said Amy Smolensky, another parent.

"They say, 'I want my money to go to a new science lab'," Smolensky said. "Enhancements, not funding a classroom teacher."

CPS spokeswoman Rebecca Carroll said in an email statement that the state pension crisis is driving the $1 billion budget deficit in the school system. CPS needs parents "to advocate for meaningful pension reform so that we can protect investments that support student learning," she said.

The additional $100,000 grant the school received will go toward funding an eighth-grade teacher, Plocher said. Plocher and others been researching outside art programs that could bring programming back, something for which Friends of Burley may have to foot the bill.

Due to a combination of less money and increased financial responsibilities at schools, Plocher said the money allocated to Burley this year did not fulfill the school's current contractual needs.

Some parents mentioned suing the system to get them to pay baseline bills, but Plocher responded with words of caution. CPS could technically come in and make the money work legally, but it would be "ugly," she said.

For example, the budget could potentially fill needs without parent help if Burley started upping class sizes or put two grades in one classroom, she said.

Much of the two-hour meeting focused on ways Burley could communicate with parents better about the changes at the school. If parents are going to paying to help run Burley, they at least want to know where the money goes, Shulman said.

"Right or wrong," she said, "we're asking parents to fund a lot of positions."