ROGERS PARK — After weeks of not knowing whether or not students at Gale Elementary School in Rogers Park would have their summer program canceled, and no word from Chicago Public Schools representatives, families officially got their answer Wednesday: The program was left out of the state's education budget bill signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Now the roughly 100 students registered for the program are left with few low-cost, last-minute options, and some are blaming CPS for not doing enough to ease the stress.
"When I heard he signed the bill yesterday, my first calls were to our budget staff and to CPS to find out, 'Are we back in business?'" state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) said.
Gale needed Rauner's approval for the program because it is part of CPS' Office of Strategic School Support Services program, which manages federal funds for neighborhood schools — funds that need to be released by the Illinois State Board of Education and CPS.
According to the bill signed by the governor, those funds were not part of the new budget.
Cassidy said that during a one-on-one conversation with a CPS official, she was told that Gale was the only school whose students are left without summer plans, and that other schools in Gale's network "heeded the warning" CPS sent about budget problems and stopped recruiting students for summer programs. (Cassidy noted she had not verified this with other principals.)
"I think what's going on at Gale right now just highlights how much more work we as a community need to do to really force some resources," she said, adding that there have been other "instances of neglect" at the school.
But at a Local School Council meeting June 3, Gale Principal Cassandra Washington said she had been told to keep recruiting kids, and that about 100 families had registered students for the program set to start Monday.
Tammy Goulet, a Rogers Park resident with a 10-year-old son who goes to Gale, said she was told by staff at Gale that the more kids who signed up for the camp, which was free to students, the better the likelihood the program would proceed.
"I wanted him to have something to do over the summer instead of being inside all day, and be able to work on some of his studies," she said. "I told him there were field trips and all that and he got excited about it."
Goulet, who is not currently working, said her son is now on a waiting list for a summer program through the Chicago Park District, and that it's stressful finding low-cost programs at the last minute. According to CPS data, 97.6 percent of Gale students come from low-income families.
Goulet said she's been frustrated by the response from Rauner as well as CPS, especially at an apparent unwillingness to accept responsibility and help families to find other options.
Washington "sent a robcall saying, 'Due to funding, we won't be able to have [the program] and I'm sorry if this causes any heartache, have a good, safe summer.' And that was it," Goulet said, who added that the call was on June 19, the last day of school.
"I don't think it was handled right at all, I mean starting with the governor, or whoever was holding up the funding for this program all the way down. It's unfortunate that Ms. Washington had to say it the way that she did and didn't give more of a response, or that we had to find out last minute like we did. It's not really helpful that way," Goulet said.
Cassidy, who lives only a short distance from Gale in Rogers Park, said she empathizes with parents like Goulet and had earlier requested parental contact information from Gale and CPS regarding students registered in the program so her office could personally help place them elsewhere.
On Thursday afternoon she said she had yet to receive any assistance from CPS in finding alternative programs for enrolled students.
CPS did not provide comment.
"I have three kids, and one of my greatest stressors every year is figuring out summer ... I can't imagine what these families are experiencing right now," Cassidy said. "We are at the point where we have demanded the names of the families and the contacts so that we can help them, because nobody else is doing it."
Cassidy said at a budget Town Hall meeting Wednesday night she was criticized by some members of the community who felt she was being "too soft" on CPS.
But Cassidy said she is "over" trying to determine blame and has been trying to focus her efforts on solutions for families.
"None of this helps the kids, I'm at the point where I don't care whose fault it is, I just want somebody to fix this. And if they're not going to fix it, give me the tools so we can minimize damage control," she said. "The money's not there, I get it. Ultimately, I wish someone just stepped up to do their job in the first place. I'm happy to do their job for them, but this is something they should have done a long time ago."
Cassidy is asking people to contact her office at email@example.com or 773-784-2002 for help in finding last-minute summer program options.
"We will do everything in our power to try and help find programs for these kids," Cassidy said. "It's my neighborhood, and these kids are my neighbors."
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