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Ogden Parents Raise $130K to Save Teachers' Jobs, But Should They Have To?

By David Matthews | September 30, 2015 2:04pm | Updated on September 30, 2015 8:09pm
 The principal of Ogden International School has sent out an emergency plea to save teachers' jobs, and parents have already responded with big checks.
The principal of Ogden International School has sent out an emergency plea to save teachers' jobs, and parents have already responded with big checks.
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Twitter/Ogden International School

DOWNTOWN — The principal of Ogden International School sent out an emergency plea to save teachers' jobs, and parents cut big checks.

Parents at Ogden, a public school that serves grades K-12 across two campuses, raised more than $138,000 in a day to prevent teacher layoffs this year, principal Michael Beyer said late Wednesday. The donations arrived about 24 hours after Beyer sent an e-mail to parents Tuesday afternoon "pleading" for "emergency fundraising."

That e-mail asked parents for $130,000 by Friday to prevent the loss of teachers at Ogden's elementary campus, 24 W. Walton St. On top of budget slashing this summer, Ogden received an additional $367,000 cut last week from Chicago Public Schools because its 10th day enrollment was less than projected. One teacher already left the school in fear she might lose her job, Beyer said. 

 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

In an interview with DNAinfo Chicago, Beyer said Wednesday that asking parents to privately pay for teacher salaries goes against his philosophy of public education. But the request is still better than the alternative: firing staff and increasing class sizes. 

"Public schools should not have to charge student fees, and parents shouldn’t have to fundraise ... schools need equitable funding and this needs to be fixed at a federal, state and local level," he said. "Not every school can do this. Even if they can, we shouldn’t have to."

Beyer sent out a congratulatory message to parents Wednesday evening once the school surpassed its fundraising goal.

"You are an amazing community to care so much about not only your children but each other's children and for the school," Beyer said in the e-mail.

Dave Matthews says many are worried this sets a bad precedent:

Though Ogden was able to pool parents' resources, not every public school in Chicago could, said Wendy Katten, director of the Raise Your Hand schools advocacy group. She said 87 percent of Chicago Public Schools students come from low-income households, and estimates "30 or maybe 40" out of the more than 500 CPS schools could afford private fundraising for teacher salaries.

Ogden Elementary, a relatively affluent neighborhood school that pulls students from high-income areas including the Gold Coast and Streeterville, has already drawn from its privilege before: using revenue from a parking garage it leases to Gibsons Restaurant Group to address previous budget cuts this summer. 

Other public schools that have privately funded teacher jobs include Ravenswood and Audubon elementaries on the city's North Side. Blaine Elementary in Lakeview has also asked parents of incoming kindergartners to donate $1,200 each toward kindergarten instructional aides.

"It's not a new phenomenon, it's very unfortunate," Katten said. "We’re not funding public education anymore in a way that’s adequate across the board, so there’s all kinds of efforts [to supplement funds]."

In a statement, CPS Spokeswoman Emily Bittner said that the school district "will need the participation of all partners" to address school budget problems.

“While it is no secret that CPS is dealing with financial challenges, we are committed to working with schools to provide sufficient support to serve all our students. Nevertheless, we understand that some schools are interested in providing supplemental services and programs, and we encourage our principals to engage with the community to support those visions," Bittner said in the statement. "As we continue to work on a solution to our budget challenges for all our students, we will need the participation of all our partners to achieve a resolution.”

Stephanie Gadlin, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Teachers Union, said in a statement that the practice of privately fundrasing for public school teacher jobs is the product of the city's failed education policies. 

"While we respect the efforts of parents who are fighting to protect the interests of their children, what type of school district allows that only schools with parents wealthy enough to personally donate will be able to avoid the disastrous impacts that these Claypool cuts?" she said. "This dynamic sets up a de facto tuition dynamic that only exacerbates that wide margins of disparities throughout the public school system. This is why it is necessary that the mayor and his handpicked board of education muster up the political will to fight for progressive revenue solutions that can sustain and enrich our school district."  

Randy Kohl, who has a child in 2nd grade at Ogden, is also concerned about parents paying directly for teachers. Not only does it seem "out of line with the mandate of what public education should be," he feels the practice could hurt Ogden in future budget negotiations with CPS. 

"Ogden is one of the more affluent public schools of Chicago, what about the dozens or hundreds of other schools who don’t have the means to avoid this?" he said. "Why would [Ogden] not use the same tactic next year?" 

By mid-day Wednesday, Beyer told parents that one family donated $15,000 themselves, an amount that will be matched by another parent group that already agreed to donate $65,000. The Friends of Ogden booster group pledged $30,000, and the school's PTA donated $15,000. Miscellaneous checks totaling $10,000 have already come into the school's office. 

"Ogden parents are very generous. They support public education because education is not a priority at federal or state level," Beyer said. 

Representatives of Friends of Ogden did not immediately return a message seeking comment. 

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