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CPS Slammed for Cuts That Hurt Special Ed While Funding Charter Schools

By Kelly Bauer | August 19, 2015 8:24am | Updated on August 19, 2015 8:32am
 Martin Ritter was one of about 20 speakers at a Chicago Public Schools budget hearing on Tuesday.
Martin Ritter was one of about 20 speakers at a Chicago Public Schools budget hearing on Tuesday. "CPS is ruining CPS," he said.
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DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer

IRVING PARK — Cindy Ok says she doesn't know how Chicago Public Schools will be able to educate its special needs students if the district's budget cuts go through.

Ok, of Ravenswood, is the mother of two sons who attend Jackie Vaughn Occupational High School, 4355 N. Linder Ave., for students with special needs. The children look forward to going to school and, with the help of an aide, take the CTA to and from classes.

That aide's job is now in jeopardy due to CPS' budget cuts, Ok said. About 1,400 people — most of them special education personnel and CPS Central Office employees — would be laid off as part of a $200 million cut to fix a budget hole.

"This is very disturbing," she said. "I've never seen anything like this."

Ok was one of about 20 speakers Tuesday night at a CPS budget hearing held at Schurz High School, 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Irving Park. Afterward, she told DNAinfo that she fears CPS, by laying off personnel like aides who provide services to students with special needs, is making it so "no meaningful educational moments" can occur at Jackie Vaughn.

Vaughn faces more than $46,000 in cuts while its enrollment is projected to rise by seven students to 207 this year.

The hearing, attended by ranking CPS officials, including CEO Forrest Claypool, started with officials telling the crowd that the district faces declining state funding and rising pension costs, leading to changes in its budget. CPS announced in mid-July that neighborhood schools will face nearly $60 million in cuts while charter schools and charter programs for at-risk students will see $30 million in gains.



Officials said they are working with state officials in Springfield to ensure Chicago receives $480 million needed for pensions; without it, the district would have to cut more or or continue "unsustainable borrowing." 

There's no Plan B, officials said, and they painted the situation as a dire one and that the district's planned cuts were necessary.

CPS was slammed by attendees throughout the hearing for those budget changes, with parents, teachers and residents using the hearing's public forum time to criticize CPS' leaders and say the district's planned budget cuts will harm schools where students are the neediest.

Josh Radinsky, who has a son with special needs, said he feels students with special needs are being targeted. Other speakers said schools that will be hit the hardest are those with special education programs or those in high-crime areas where students need mental and emotional resources, like counseling, that won't be as readily available after the cuts.

One speaker said CPS' budget was a "travesty" for the neediest schools; another said the cuts will contribute to a crisis for students who need mental health services.

Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, criticized CPS' planned budget cuts, saying he expects them to lead to students with special needs losing their aides and other services and being pushed into "mainstream classes," which could lead to a lawsuit. [DNAinfo/file photo]

Jesse Sharkey, Chicago Teachers Union vice president, said at the hearing that "a lot" of the $200 million cuts comes from special education services, and he fears students with special needs will see their aides laid off. He expects those students will be pushed into "mainstream classes" where teachers will "agonize" over caring for larger classrooms with fewer resources, he said.

Multiple speakers said CPS is opening itself to a class action lawsuit over the cuts. That should be a serious concern for the district, Sharkey said, because layoffs to special education personnel could mean students aren't able to receive services they are entitled to under the law.

Chicago has a "legal obligation to educate [students with special needs], and there's no way they're doing that with level of cuts," he said. "They're unjustifiable. It's draconian."

Ok told DNAinfo she would participate in a lawsuit on behalf of her sons if it came to that.

"Of course, but I don't want it to come to that ...," Ok said. "It shouldn't come to that."

Speakers also criticized CPS for funding charter schools while trimming budgets at neighborhood schools. Almost every speaker took a dig at charter schools, eliciting applause and cheers from the crowd of attendees.

Ald. John Arena (45th) was among those who criticized the charter schools, and he called for CPS to do a better job explaining its contributions to those schools' budgets. He also suggested CPS add more nuance to its per-pupil funding model to reflect the different needs of schools and students.

Arena also told the crowd he has worked with community members to create a hydroponics program at Schurz, but the future of that program is threatened since Schurz faces more than $970,000 in budget cuts. Arena said he is worried that cutting the fledgling program will make it more difficult to create similar programs with community members in the future.

The CPS officials in attendance did not respond to the speakers' comments and left after the public forum finished.

The hearing wasn't the first time CPS' recent changes were met with resistance: CPS sought to change school start times at 60 high schools and 17 elementary schools as a cost-cutting measure, but it decided to roll back those changes after backlash from community members. Activists are on a hunger strike, demanding CPS stop delaying a decision on the future of Dyett High School, and opponents of CPS' cuts have taken to Twitter, using memes to mock the district.

Tuesday's hearing at Schurz was one of three held simultaneously across the city. Other budget hearings were held at Olive-Harvey College, 10001 S. Woodlawn Ave., and Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren.

A breakdown of proposed changes to school budgets from CPS:

School by School Budget 2015


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