ROGERS PARK — Parents and community members are circulating an online petition in a last-ditch effort to help restore crucial funding that could potentially save summer programming they feel is in jeopardy at Gale Elementary School — and across the city — if the state and CPS' budgets aren't figured out soon.
With more than 100 kids already signed up for a six-week long learning camp, school administrators, staff and more are desperately trying to save a summer program they say is absolutely necessary.
"CPS will have to find money in the mattress," said Kyle Hillman, a member of Gale's Local School Council, at its most recent June meeting.
In a signed letter to top Chicago Public School executives, including President David Vitale, Interim CEO Jesse Ruiz and Network Chief Krish Mohip, Far North Side leaders urged CPS to stay accountable to students and parents who may be affected by a federally-funded summer program that has been placed "on hold" due to state budgetary issues.
Last year, Gale became part of Chicago Public Schools' Office of Strategic School Support Services program — a CPS committee founded at the state-level by former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett that manages federal funds for neighborhood schools. But in order to use those federal grants, which would fund free summer programming for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade, the Illinois State Board of Education and CPS must release the funds.
That means Rogers Park kids could be without summer programming at a time when violence in the neighborhood is prevelant, parents and school council members say.
On June 1, a 22-year-old man was shot twice outside Gale as students played outside during recess.
"Anytime that you get 100 plus kids to volunteer to sign up for summer education programs, you're hopeful that it gets funded," Hillman said. "I understand there's a lot of complications ... but at the same time I know that CPS has other budgets and that if it's a priority, then it should be funded."
According to the petition, 35 schools are poised to lose their summer programming, potentially leaving thousands of Chicago school children with few options.
Hillman said as Gale continues to see a boost in test scores in recent years, funding for extracurricular learning opportunities are key to maintaining the school's success.
"I have a concern because the school's scores have been improving, but to continue that improvement we need programs like this not just to keep the kids off the street, but to continue to allow them to catch up," Hillman said. "Having no program is not a solution."
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Ald. Joe Moore (49th), Rep. Kelly Cassidy and Sen. Heather Steans said the cuts would be even more damaging because deadlines have passed for kids to sign up for alternative programming, such as through the park district.
In the letter, they say CPS must bear responsibility when it comes to "thorough communication with affected parents, including assistance identifying alternative arrangements in case the program does not take place."
Hillman said he agreed that "it falls on the shoulders of CPS."
"I think it also falls on the shoulders of our elected officials, it falls on the shoulders of any organizations that support the school," Hillman said. "I think everybody in that group needs to step up and identify alternative places for these children to go this summer."
The Gale summer activities are scheduled to run four days a week starting from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. June 29-Aug. 6, with students receiving breakfast and lunch meals at no charge as they get special instruction in math and reading, according to Gale's website.
The summer camp's day-to-day programming is headed by teachers and staff the students are already familiar with.
Gale Principal Cassandra Washington said at the Local School Council meeting in June that she'd been told to recruit students for the summer program and about 100 had signed up to participate.
Then, she said she feared she would have to distribute letters to parents saying they would need to find other services for thier kids during the summer.
"This program was promoted to our parents as a program that we were going to do, so these parents signed their kids up," Hillman said. "Now we're at a point where we've passed the park district's deadline, a lot of the community programs are full, so finding alternative programs for these kids is going to be incredibly difficult, which means you're going to have 100-plus kids that would normally be in a summer program without."
Part of the funding issue could be due to an ongoing scandal surrounding Byrd-Bennett. As the Chicago Sun-Times reported, CPS officials are being investigated regarding their ties to Synesi Associates LLC, a company that received a $6.5 million contract signed in July 2013 to help struggling schools. Synesi is one of the providers for the Office of Strategic School Support Services.
CPS did not provide a comment by time of publication.
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