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Amundsen's Budget Down $1 Million As Enrollment Strategically Dips

By Patty Wetli | April 30, 2014 9:49am | Updated on April 30, 2014 9:58am
 Steve Johnson, LSC chairman, and Principal Anna Pavichevich discuss Amundsen's budget shortfall with the school's LSC members.
Steve Johnson, LSC chairman, and Principal Anna Pavichevich discuss Amundsen's budget shortfall with the school's LSC members.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

LINCOLN SQUARE — For the second year in a row, Amundsen High School is facing a massive budget deficit, Principal Anna Pavichevich told members of the Local School Council Tuesday night.

Projections for 2014-15 show student-based funding from CPS down nearly $900,000 and a loss in state funds to the tune of almost $140,000. Adding in money from other "buckets," Pavichevich said the gap would ultimately narrow to approximately $800,000, and could result in the loss of 11 staff positions.

"We're going to review every single dollar spent," she said.

The short answer to the drop in funds: "We have a smaller class coming in than we have leaving," said Steve Johnson, LSC parent representative and chairman.

Amundsen is graduating 350 seniors in June, replaced by a freshman class that currently is trending at roughly 275.

The more complicated story surrounding those numbers: Declining enrollment is actually part of the school's strategy to improve its academic standing.

Amundsen's stated mission is to become the school of choice for the surrounding neighborhood.

"Our commitment is to serving the students of this community first and foremost," Pavichevich said.

In the past, Amundsen enrolled a "significantly larger" number of students from outside of its attendance boundaries, a practice Pavichevich has cut back since taking over as principal in 2012.

"The ship has been righted," she said.

Instead, her focus has been on developing relationships with the high school's feeder elementary schools. The effort is beginning to pay off, with assistant principal Minh Nguyen reporting an uptick in incoming freshman from feeders such as McPherson and Budlong.

The result has been a "much more cohesive" community, according to Darinka D'Alessio, LSC parent representative.

"The quality of the high school experience our students are being exposed to has grown dramatically over the last two to three years. We've got kids here who are having a great time," she said, pointing to a rise in sports and extracurricular participation.

"We're starting to get a student body more adapted to what the school provides," added Johnson, noting that the number of students enrolled in Amundsen's International Baccalaureate program has held steady even as the overall enrollment has dipped.

Still, the loss of funds stings.

"It feels bad," said D'Alessio.

"I feel like we're climbing up and this hits," said Pavichevich, who just announced in March that the school had been taken off probation. "It's another hurdle to clear."

Friends of Amundsen, the school's fundraising and community relations organization, was less diplomatic in its assessment of the budget news, which came on the heels of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's unveiling of plans for a new $60 million Barack Obama College Prep, a selective enrollment high school in the Near North neighborhood.

Stephen Reynolds, the group's president, penned an open letter to Emanuel and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett challenging the district's allocation of resources.

"Why is CPS choosing not to invest in our neighborhood high schools?" wrote Reynolds, who, when contacted by DNAinfo Chicago said the letter speaks for itself. "Providing disproportionate resources to the top five percent is a disservice to the future opportunities of Chicago students and the community as a whole."

CPS' funding formula jeopardizes the gains made at schools like Amundsen, which has shown "strong academic progress," he continued. "To have a truly enriched K-to-12 experience, thriving neighborhood elementary schools should feed into a thriving neighborhood high school. This brings neighborhoods together, creates community and — therefore — a greater Chicago. You cannot keep strangling neighborhood high schools."

Having already done more with less in 2013-14 — "Last year we were hit harder and look at the strides we made," said Pavichevich — Amundsen's leadership remained committed to its upward trajectory.

Vowed Johnson: "We're going to continue kicking ass."


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