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Far Northwest Side Schools Hit Hard By Midyear Budget Cuts

By Heather Cherone | February 10, 2016 6:21pm
 Far Northwest Side have been hit hard by budget cuts.
Far Northwest Side have been hit hard by budget cuts.
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Flickr/US Department of Education

NORWOOD PARK — Ten elementary schools on the Far Northwest Side will see their budgets slashed by more than 3 percent as part of unprecedented midyear budget cuts announced by Chicago Public Schools officials.

In addition, Taft High School — the most crowded in the city — will see its budget slashed by $459,000, according to documents released by school officials.

But Taft Principal Mark Grishaber said he won't have to lay off any teachers to make ends meet. Like many CPS leaders, he said he knew it was just a matter of when — not if — the cuts were implemented.

"When the ship is going down, you start bailing whatever you can," Grishaber said. "We understood what was coming."

Principals across the city have until Feb. 29 to implement the cuts, which total $85 million this school year. Schools CEO Forrest Claypool asked them to avoid cutting teachers and increasing class sizes, but it is not clear whether that will be possible at all schools, where students just passed the halfway point of the 2015-16 school year.

Oriole Park, Wildwood and Norwood Park elementary schools will see their budget cut by the biggest percentage of all elementary schools in the city except for two schools, according to documents released by school officials.

Wildwood Elementary Principal Mary Beth Cunat told parents in an email Wednesday morning she "squirreled away every non-essential penny (with [Local School Council] approval) in case this day came," but was only able to save $20,000.

That means the Edgebrook school — which opened a $15 million annex in September — still has to figure out a way to fill a newly created deficit of about $58,000, Cunat said.

That would leave her no other option but to eliminate teachers, "a highly disruptive if not damaging" decision, Cunat said.

Instead, Cunat said the school's parents groups were considering a proposal to redirect money raised for the school's athletic and music programs, as well as the proceeds from the school's annual Spring Fling fundraiser.

"I am scraping together every penny in the budget," Cunat said, adding that those who have given money to the school in the past will be approached again.

Oriole Park Elementary School Principal Tim Riff told parents in an email that he is in a similar situation, and is trying to find a way to fill a $40,000 hole in his budget.

Promising additional information as soon as possible, Riff asked parents "to trust that we will expend every effort to minimize the effect on our students regardless of how this plays out."

However, Ebinger Elementary School Principal Serena Peterson-Klosa told parents of the Edison Park school that she and members of the local school council were "ready" for the cuts and no programs such as art or music would be cut.

"What I mean by being 'ready' is that any cuts that could occur would not negatively impact our students (for example having to cut a classroom teacher)," Peterson-Klosa wrote. "I can assure you that no teachers will be lost because of these cuts. Your child's class size will not grow as a result of these cuts!"

To help fill a $480 million budget deficit, the district 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.

But that 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, like most — if not all — Far Northwest Side schools.

More than 20 percent of the schools citywide 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.

Seven other Far Northwest Side schools will lose 2 percent to 3 percent of their budget, while two others will lose less than 2 percent, according to documents released by school officials.

CPS officials said they had no choice but to make the cuts after it became clear state officials had no intention of filling the school district's budget hole, and negotiations for a new contract with the Chicago Teachers Union fell apart.

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.

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