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CPS Budget Cuts: Policy Shift Stops the Bleeding at Local Schools

By Casey Cora | September 25, 2013 6:27am
 Principals lauded CPS for "wonderful" budget and enrollment news.
Principals lauded CPS for "wonderful" budget and enrollment news.
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DNAinfo/Casey Cora

CHICAGO — In a year that’s seen a massive teacher’s strike, severe budget cuts and the nation’s largest round of public school closings, praise aimed at CPS from inside neighborhood schools has been rare.

Yet Chicago Public Schools' recent announcement that it would give schools a one-year reprieve on the next round of enrollment-based budget cuts has some principals downright joyful.

“We were warned that it would be cut, but we got the wonderful message [Monday]. It’s a wonderful gesture on their part,” said John Nichols, principal of Graham Elementary School, 4436 S. Union Ave. in Canaryville.

Like other schools across the city, Graham has been facing a decline in enrollment, leading to deep budget cuts because of the district’s new per-pupil budget system, which assigns funding to schools based on enrollment figures.

CPS boss Barbara Byrd-Bennett on Monday announced that schools like Graham that fell short of the district’s projected enrollment wouldn’t lose more money based on their actual enrollments, figures that CPS was working to finalize on Tuesday, the 20th day of school.

Schools that had more students than their projected enrollment are entitled to an increase in per-pupil funding — that's $4,429 per student in grades K-3; $4,140 per student in grades 4-8; and $5,132 per student in high school.

For South Side schools, that means hundreds of thousands of dollars are now available for school programs and staffing.

Joseph Shoffner, principal of Bridgeport’s McClellan Elementary School, 3527 S. Wallace St., said the move would allow his school — which surpassed the district’s projection of 288 students — to hang on to about $70,000, money the school will use for technology programs and support for differentiated learning groups.

“We were lucky. We will have a nice increase in enrollment. It will work to our advantage,” he said.

At Mark Sheridan Math & Science Academy, 533 W. 27th St., which was hit by roughly $446,000 in budget cuts this summer, principal John O’Connell said CPS projected the magnet school’s enrollment at 545. That's the school's 20-day enrollment, he said.

“My goal was to try and hit that 545. Our building is at 113 percent capacity, and I can’t keep building, so I wasn’t going to climb past that,” he said.

Principal Konstantinos Patsiopoulos at Holden Elementary School, 1104 W. 31st St., declined to discuss specific enrollment figures but said the school fell short of its projected enrollment of 541 students.

"We’re in good shape. We can service all our kids. We have enough teachers to service our kids," he said.

At nearby Armour School, 950 W. 33rd Place, principal Shelley Cordova said the school, which lost $415,000 earlier this summer, will now be able to retain a literacy coordinator position.

Still, the veteran principal is concerned that the yearlong reprieve offered by CPS results in an unfair distribution of money.

In other words, schools with enrollments that fell far short of projections will retain a much larger chunk of funds than schools in which enrollment fell by just a few students, at least for a year.

“Try doing that to your own kid. ‘Oh, I gave him more because I made a mistake.’ That’s kind of what this feels like. I’m glad we didn’t get any more cuts. That’s wonderful. But when you’re not getting as much as other schools, is that really equitable?” Cordova asked.

Principal Ginger Lumpkin at Haines Elementary School in Chinatown declined to comment for this story. Principal Marian Strok at McKinley Park's Evergreen Academy Middle School did not return a call seeking comment.