EDGEBROOK — The slow-motion budget crisis engulfing the Chicago Public Schools crested Wednesday, as principals across the city scrambled to find a way to fill massive holes in their budgets.
We've written about the crisis afflicting CPS — a lot — from both a district-wide perspective as well as its impact on individual schools. Click here to see how your child's school fared in the latest round of budget cuts.
Here's a handy Q & A, which will attempt to break down the bleak — and complicated — financial picture facing Chicago's schools.
Has CPS ever slashed school budgets in the middle of the year before?
No. These cuts, which total $85 million this school year, are unprecedented. District officials urged principals — who have until Feb. 29 to decide how to implement the cuts — not to eliminate teaching positions, but that may not be possible at all schools. That means students, who just passed the halfway mark of the 2015-16 school year, may find themselves in a new classroom next month.
Whose fault is this?
Depends on who you ask. In September, the Board of Education adopted a budget that counted on $480 million in state funds — despite the fact that Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly haven't been able to agree on a budget, which was supposed to be approved nine months ago. The district is now out of money, and schools CEO Forrest Claypool said in a statement Tuesday evening that he had no choice but to slash schools' budgets.
I heard CPS blame the Chicago Teachers Union. Is it the union's fault?
District officials said they won't make the cuts if the union agrees to a new contract before the end of February. Ten days ago, the union rejected a proposed agreement that district officials said would have helped stabilize the district's financial picture. Union president Karen Lewis called the cuts "an act of war" and vice president Jesse Sharkey dismissed them as a "pressure tactic" designed to bring teachers back to the negotiating table.
Didn't CPS cut school budgets at the beginning of the school year?
Yes. This is round two, despite a massive property tax hike approved in October. That money won't start rolling in until this summer.
Do schools have anything left to cut?
Many principals say there isn't anything left to get rid of that won't directly affect what happens in classrooms across the city.
How did CPS officials decide what to cut?
District officials left that up to principals, who must submit a plan approved by Local School Councils in the coming days. Instead, it reduced the amount of money it gives each school for each student by $214. In order to lessen the blow, district officials agreed to give schools leftover state funds and federal money set aside for low-income students.
Which schools will see the biggest cuts?
The district's formula for the budget cuts means the schools that will see the biggest cuts will be the ones with the highest enrollments as well as those with the fewest low-income students. That means that schools on the North and Northwest sides have the biggest holes to fill. More than 20 percent of the schools that lost more than 3 percent of their budget are on the Far Northwest Side, one of the most affluent areas of the city — and a part of the city where schools are significantly overcrowded.
Will my kid's class size increase?
No one knows yet. But principals across the city have been preparing for this moment for several months. For example, the administration at Walter Payton College Prep asked parents to raise $1.1 million to stave off the cuts that could have led to the dismissal of 12 teachers. At Wildwood Elementary School in Edgebrook, Principal Mary Beth Cunat said she had "squirreled away" $20,000 to offset the cuts. But that means the school still has to figure out how to fill a $58,000 hole, Cunat said.
Can I chip in a few bucks? I don't want my kid's school year to be disrupted.
Parents across the city will be asked to do just that by principals and school officials desperate to keep these cuts from being felt in the classroom.
What about next year? Will there be more cuts?
Yes. But how much the district has to cut depends on two things — what a new contract with the teachers union looks like, and whether the state agrees to give CPS more money to cover teachers' pensions.
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