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Swift Elementary School Teachers, Supporters Work to Close Budget Hole

By Benjamin Woodard | September 5, 2013 6:40am
 Kary Zarate teaches special needs students at Swift Elementary School in Edgewater.
Kary Zarate teaches special needs students at Swift Elementary School in Edgewater.
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Courtesy of Kary Zarate

EDGEWATER — A teacher and a minister in Edgewater have found their own ways to help ease the pain of budget cuts at one Chicago school.

Kary Zarate, 26, launched online fundraisers this school year to pay for printers and projectors for her class of disabled students at Swift Elementary School. At the same time, pastor Dori Gorman, of Community Christian Church, founded Friends of Swift.

Since Chicago Public Schools announced $68 million in cuts to district schools early this summer, principals have been forced to cut positions after seeing thousands slashed from their budgets.

"They have had pretty significant budget cuts going into this school year," said Gorman, and although the exact amount of Swift's cut wasn't immediately available, she said the school would need to lay off staff members.

Other area elementary schools were hit with thousands of dollars in cuts, like at Gale in Rogers Park, which was hit with a $448,000 budget reduction.

Gorman, whose church meets on Sundays at Swift, 5900 N. Winthrop Ave., said she plans to enroll her 2-year-old daughter at the school when she's older.

"I don’t think enough people know how much a school influences a neighborhood," she said.

So far, the group has raised nearly $1,000. Several area businesses, like Lickity Split on North Broadway, have agreed to sponsor the group, she said.

Zarate, and some of her colleagues, have taken to online fundraising services, like DonorsChoose.org, to raise money for supplies and electronics out of reach with district funds.

Overall, $62,476 has been raised for Swift, according to the site.

For Zarate, the specialized equipment required to teach her special needs students is even harder to obtain.

"My needs are very unique," said Zarate, 29. "Our resources are very finite this year. We’re fending for ourselves for things like printer paper."

Earlier this year she raised $390 to buy a keyboard with oversized keys and a modified computer mouse that makes using a computer easier for her developmentally disabled students. In August, she raised $221 for a printer.

Now she's asking for $586 to buy a projector for her classroom.

As of Wednesday evening, she still needs $325, but is confident she'll reach her goal.

"People tend to have a soft spot for kids with special needs," she said.