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More Cuts Loom for Portage Park Elementary School

By Heather Cherone | September 16, 2013 1:22pm
 Portage Park Elementary School
Portage Park Elementary School
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

PORTAGE PARK — Portage Park Elementary School will have no money to pay for substitute teachers after the latest round of budget cuts, Local School Council Chairwoman Victoria "Tori" Benson said.

Because of a decline in enrollment, the Far Northwest Side school expects to lose $59,000 — on top of the nearly $900,000 that Chicago Public Schools officials cut from its budget earlier this year.

"It is really discouraging," said Benson, whose two sons attend the neighborhood school at 5330 W. Berteau Ave.

Principal Maureen Ready declined to comment about the latest round of budget cuts, saying district officials told her not to speak to the media.

The school will have about 25 fewer students this year than last, Benson said. That means less money for the school, since CPS now allocates funds on a per-student basis.

 Portage Park Elementary School
Portage Park Elementary School
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

CPS spokesman Dave Miranda said the district still is finalizing enrollment figures, which will change school budgets. Per-pupil funding allows every school to be funded fairly and equitably, he added.

CPS pays for substitute teachers to cover classes for teachers who can take up to seven sick and personal days, and the school had planned to set aside $48,000 to pay for substitutes for those teachers who take more. (The contract between the district and Chicago Teachers Union allows teachers to take 13 days off during the school year.)

But the decline in enrollment, based on a head count conducted on the 10th day of school, means the school will instead use that money to cover other needs. A plan is in place to send students to the auditorium if their teacher is absent to avoid having combined classes of more than 40 students, Benson said.

The additional cuts also mean the school will not be able to replace its outdated math and science textbooks, Benson said.

Benson, who volunteers at the school twice a week on her lunch break, likened CPS' handling of school budgets to a "now you see it, now you don't" magic act.

"It is like they want us to be confused about how much money we should actually have," Benson said.

Before the start of the school year, one English as a Second Language teacher was laid off, as well as one special education teacher. One part-time bilingual teacher and one part-time art teacher were also be let go, along with three members of the school's support staff.

In addition, the cuts meant that the school could not afford to create an additional third grade class, increasing the size of the classes, school officials said.

The start of the school year at Portage Park, which isn't entirely air conditioned, was complicated by the extremely hot weather, Benson said.

"It was awful," Benson said. "There is nothing worse than hot, tired little kids."

Portage Park students are lucky to still have the arts and other "extras" that should be considered necessities because of the hard work of parents, teachers and residents, Benson said.

A $30,000 grant from After School All Stars will allow the school to offer after-school programs, clubs and help for struggling students.

"It is nothing fancy," Benson said. "But it enough to let the teachers stay after school and help the kids who need it the most."

In addition, Portage Park Helping Hands raised nearly $6,000 for a new sound system in the school's auditorium thanks to an event hosted by the Gale Street Inn and a donation from the Portage Park Neighborhood Association, Benson said.

"We shouldn't have to work above and beyond for the necessities," Benson said. "We shouldn't have to fundraise to pay for the arts or to pay teachers."