THE LOOP — Parents from more than a dozen schools pressed the Board of Education Wednesday to increase its level of per-pupil funding.
According to Wendy Katten of Raise Your Hand, which helped organize the concerted effort, parents from 17 schools addressed the board calling for Chicago Public Schools to halt budget cuts and increase the allotted funds for schools based on per-pupil spending.
They said it was early pressure to address the 2015 budget. Yet Katten also cited what she insisted was a $178 million increase in CPS Central Office spending this year. Katten said that translated to more than $500 per pupil districtwide, or more than $300,000 for a school with 600 students.
"We're not just here to yell at you," Katten told the the board. Raise Your Hand proposed solutions calling for CPS to cut Central Office spending, for the city to redistribute Tax Increment Finance funds and for the state to adopt tax reform for more equitable education spending. Katten said Raise Your Hand would be lobbying to that end in the coming months.
"The classroom should be the last place to cut," said Brenda Delgado, a Salazar parent.
CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett fell back on pension woes as an excuse. She said that long-overdue pension payments required this year would cost the district $613 million, more than $400 million more than last year, and would climb to $696 million next year if the General Assembly does not approve Chicago pension reform like that granted to state pensions last year.
Byrd-Bennett quoted Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) in saying it amounted to "a nightmare scenario for Chicago Public Schools," adding that it threatened to "crowd out critical classroom spending."
Yet Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis addressed the board Wednesday and said she would fight "pension theft" that attempted to cut benefits for her membership.
Parents from schools including Burley, Ray, Byrne, Peterson, Audubon, Mitchell, Salazar, Burr, Blaine, Belding, Murphy, Fleming, Portage Park, Bret Harte and Kenwood High School all testified about the budget cuts their schools faced last summer, when CPS adopted per-pupil budgeting. They said it made schools incapable of following through on initiatives promoted by Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, such as expanded art and music education and daily physical-education classes.
Byrne parent Jennifer Gierat attacked CPS' leadership "by press release" in touting new programs and initiatives and then failing to fully fund them.
Andrew Kaplan, of Mitchell's Local School Council, said last summer's per-pupil budgeting led to a 23 percent cut at the school.
Karen Convery, an Audubon parent, said the school's budget was cut $400,000 last year, adding, "There is nothing left to cut at Audubon."
Joyce Clendenning, a Kenwood High School parent, said the school's budget was slashed by $1 million. "You find us an increase in per-pupil funding," she demanded.
Burley parent Amy Smolensky decried the "annual budget bloodbath" and said it produced a "culture of fear."
Katten said a Raise Your Hand survey of 720 parents at 170 schools showed that 14 percent of schools offered no art education at all, and that 45 percent of CPS parents said they had considered moving out of the city because of the constant crisis at CPS.
In response, board President David Vitale acknowledged, "It's a difficult challenge," and also cited pension payments as a problem, saying, "There's only so much that's in our control."