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Despite Budget Cuts, Ogden Keeps All Teachers Thanks to Parking Garage

 Parents outside Ogden Elementary School, 24 W. Walton St.
Parents outside Ogden Elementary School, 24 W. Walton St.
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DNAinfo/Emily Morris

DOWNTOWN — Ogden International School has found paradise in a parking garage. 

The Downtown school, which operates two campuses serving kindergarten through 12th grade, will maintain all teaching positions next year despite a $400,000 CPS cut, in part because of the rent it hauls in every year leasing a parking garage to Gibsons Restaurant Group. 

Gibsons, which runs its namesake Rush Street steakhouse as well as Hugo's Frog Bar and other eateries, pays Ogden $250,000 annually to lease the parking garage at its elementary school, 24 W. Walton St. Ogden has since built up $287,000 in reserves solely from the rent it collects, and will draw that entire balance this school year after CPS slashed its budget. The school also collects about $35,000 annually by renting out the elementary school to a nearby church on weekends. 

"It's what's needed to maintain stability at Ogden, which I think has been lacking the last few years," Principal Michael Beyer said. 

Ogden's local school council (LSC) approved its budget Wednesday night. Though the school expects to collect another $285,000 this year from leases, Beyer noted the lease funds may merely be a short-term solution, especially if CPS continues to cut school budgets in the future.

"If these cuts last to next year we'll have to rethink some things and teachers will be losing positions," he said.

CPS last week delivered annual budgets to schools, including a $500,000 cut to Ogden. Because the school operates more than one campus it was able to retrieve about $100,000 back, Beyer said. Most of Ogden's budgeted cuts were to "supplemental funds" outside the classroom. 

Ogden LSC Vice-Chair David Ramos expressed some skepticism about pulling reserve funds before being swayed by the argument it would pay for school materials and "professional development" instead of staff. 

"It's no guarantee Springfield will agree to anything [about school budgets]," Ramos said. "This is not the rainy day yet."

But Ogden LSC Chair Tracy Shine said the school should take advantage of its reserves, which could be used against them politically.

"CPS could look at that $250,000 and say 'we don't need to give you anything,'" she said. 

Ogden's LSC also voted to increase student fees to $250 across the school. Previously, only Ogden high school students paid $250, while elementary students paid $100. About 58 percent of Ogden families paid the student fee last year, the LSC said. Beyer expects to generate at least $200,000 in new revenue from the increased fees. 

A Gibsons spokeswoman did not return a message seeking comment.

Ogden address audit put on backburner

Beyer also told Ogden parents Wednesday he had not started the student address audit he said he would, saying he feared a "mass exodus" of students after receiving his budget from CPS. Enrollment is a big factor in how the school district determines individual school budgets. 

Instead, Beyer said he formed a 12-person committee "exploring all options" to address overcrowding, including finding space in a third school building or eventually running an audit.

"There are a lot of opportunities to solve overcrowding," he said. 

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