EDGEBROOK — Already in turmoil after budget cuts led to the layoffs of three full-time teachers and one part-time teacher, Wildwood Elementary School is bracing for more cuts, Principal Mary Beth Cunat said Wednesday.
Wildwood, which was among the most overcrowded schools last year, will lose between $75,000 and $98,000 after a headcount on Monday, the 10th day of school, Cunat said.
The school's librarian, drama teacher, an upper-grade teacher and a part-time counselor were laid off in the first round of budget cuts, Cunat said. That accounts for 10 percent of the school's staff last year, she added.
"It has been brutal," Cunat said. "But the kids have been great. They came back to school ready to learn, and they have been a joy."
Cunat is not sure exactly how much money she has to work with to keep Wildwood's budget out of the red because of glitches in the Chicago Public Schools' finance and human resources systems, she said.
"There is no way to make responsible budget decisions when something as simple as an accurate salary in the budget is not reflected," Cunat said. "I may lose a lot more or a lot less if anything is ever accurately updated."
If the cuts are less than she expects, Cunat said she plans to hire a part-time teacher to ease the staffing shortage by covering teachers' lunches and preparation periods. But if they are worse than she fears, another teacher might lose his or her job, she said.
Because of severe overcrowding at the academically top-rated magnet school, Cunat has reduced the number of students it accepts from outside the neighborhood. That means less money for the school, since CPS now allocates funds on a per-student basis.
"Once a class gets to 25 or 26 students, I won't take anymore students from outside the neighborhood," including siblings of current students, Cunat said.
Some classes have as many as 31 students, which is not ideal, Cunat said.
The school's "ideal capacity" is 240 students, but last year, 420 students attended the school, giving the school a utilization rate of 175 percent and making it one of the most crowded in the city, according to CPS data.
After the school was passed over last year for an annex by CPS, officials agreed to redesign Wildwood to maximize classroom space, an effort that is mostly complete, Cunat said.
"We have a lot more space," Cunat said. "We cleaned out a lot of clutter, and unused stuff."
The school's special education room was divided into three sections, allowing for more one-on-one instruction for the students, Cunat said.
Two new offices were also created — but Cunat hasn't had time to figure out where her office will go.
"I think I'll be in with the lunch-room manager," Cunat said.
Because of the staff shortage, Cunat spends half of the week teaching technology. Wildwood received a grant from the Chicago Public Education Foundation to teach students digital citizenship and social media.
"It means that I am not as accessible to parents as I was before," Cunat said, adding that she completes most of her administrative duties before and after school.
For the second year in a row, Cunat was honored last month as one of the best CPS principals and given a bonus of $5,000. That money will be used to bring the Chicago Children's Choir's in-school choir program to Wildwood, Cunat said.