PILSEN — Pilsen Community Academy parents had a slew of questions about budget cuts at the school's first Local School Council meeting this year, but Principal Adel Ali refused to shed any light on the school's finances Thursday.
The concerns came as parents complained about staff cuts, a lack of working security cameras and problems with lunchroom supervision, and as council members seemed unsure about who the LSC president was.
Even before Ali refused to answer parents' budget questions, he attempted to deny access to the public meeting to a DNAinfo Chicago reporter and even called security in an attempt to stop coverage of the event.
The 8 a.m. meeting at the school at 1420 W. 17th St. was attended by 20 parents and community members who wanted to know how budget cuts across the district had affected the school, which serves students in preschool through eighth grade.
“What is the budget for this year?" asked parent Vicky Lugo. "How many positions have been removed?”
Ali responded that parents were taking too long to ask their questions, which he said was a violation of CPS policy that requires questions only last a minute and a half. He declined to explain any details of the school's budget, saying it would take too much time to go through specific budget points with meeting attendees.
“I’d have to sit with you for about two weeks to explain it,” he said. “Your question is not clear, so therefore I can’t answer it.”
Ali would not give a total enrollment figure, but he said the school had lost about 40 students since last year, when 440 students attended, according to CPS. The district's new budgeting system depends heavily on student enrollment.
Even council Vice President Jose Luis Guerra said he had not seen a final version of the school’s budget. Other LSC members said they were given copies of the budget, but none produced a copy at the meeting, and no copies were made available to those in attendance.
Other budget concerns arose over a lack of working security cameras at the school.
Rosemarie Sierra, who was president of Pilsen Academy’s LSC last year, said the cameras are needed because the school has had windows broken and sustained other damage.
Ali said nearly $40,000 was needed to repair and replace existing security cameras around the school. The principal said he met with Ald. Danny Solis (25th) last week to see if outside funding for the cameras could be secured.
In an emailed statement, Solis said he was waiting for an official cost estimate from the school and CPS.
"Alderman Solis has committed his support for new cameras at Pilsen Academy," a spokesman for Solis said in the email. "After speaking to the principal, he requested that the principal make a claim for cameras to CPS. Alderman Solis is waiting for a cost estimate for the cameras and is exploring the use of menu money to fund the cameras."
Several parents also complained about what they considered aggressive behavior from a lunchroom staff person toward students. Ali said he would look into the issue, but he also said the school was short-staffed and requested that parents volunteer their time to compensate for the loss of staff.
When asked by a DNAinfo Chicago reporter if lunchroom positions had been cut because of budget issues, Ali said he could not answer that question, as it was CPS, and not he, who was responsible for budgeting those positions.
In addition, there was confusion about who was in charge of the LSC. When asked by parents who the president was, LSC members gave conflicting answers.
Ultimately, council member Elvira Velazquez confirmed she was the acting president, but said, via a translator, that she had told the principal last spring she did not want the position, as she didn’t have the time in her schedule to commit to it.
Ali earlier had denied a reporter entry to the meeting and called security in an attempt to have her removed from the school. After at least 20 minutes of the meeting was conducted behind closed doors, the reporter was allowed in but was not permitted to take photos, even though there is no law or CPS policy banning the practice.
Ali has been principal at the school since the 2004-2005 school year. He was paid $142,200 as of last year, according to CPS.
A spokeswoman for CPS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.