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Ag School Braces For $505,000 In Budget Cuts

By  Howard Ludwig and Heather Cherone | May 18, 2016 8:24am 

 Principal William Hook of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences was told Tuesday to prepare for $505,000 in budget cuts next year.
Principal William Hook of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences was told Tuesday to prepare for $505,000 in budget cuts next year.
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DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig

MOUNT GREENWOOD — Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences principal William Hook was told Tuesday to prepare for $505,000 in budget cuts next year.

"We are going to have to figure it out," Hook said. "Hopefully, we will do it with the least impact that we can."

Hook was called to a meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday that included Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool and other school regional network chiefs. Some 20 other principals were on hand to receive similar news, Hook said.

The cuts come on top of mid-year cuts announced Feb. 9 that slashed $56,481 or 1.36 percent of the overall budget from the school at 3857 W. 111th St. in Mount Greenwood.

At least this time, Hook has time to plan for the reductions: two retiring teachers will not be replaced to satisfy the cutbacks, he said. Class sizes will also be raised across the board to have at least 33 students in each room, Hook said.

Other cost-saving measures will likely include the elimination of all over time and changing after-school tutoring to a lunchtime activity, he said.

"My hope is that the kids won't feel anything," said Hook, who added that the school's diverse learning program was spared from the cuts.

Overall, CPS is facing a $1 billion budget deficit. And Hook is one of hundreds of principals throughout the system gritting their teeth as reductions to the tune of 26 percent of their schools' budgets are forecast.

District spokeswoman Emily Bittner confirmed the principal meetings Tuesday, saying implementing budget cuts of this size "will take more preparation than ever before."

Bittner said district officials understood that there would be no way to avoid "higher class sizes, loss of enrichment activities, and layoffs of teachers and support staff" because of the size of crisis, which officials called a "financial tsunami."

"Classroom impacts will be devastating," the district said in a statement.

The preliminary budgets given to principals Tuesday reduces the amount of money CPS gives each school for each student by 39 percent. Because the district plans to "redeploy grant dollars for poverty and other needs" schools will suffer actual cuts ranging from 20 to 30 percent, officials said.

Most schools will see cuts of about 26 percent, officials said.

The meetings with principals are an effort by district officials to develop "mitigation strategies in an attempt to free as many resources as possible for reinvestment in classrooms," officials said.

For weeks, CPS officials have been urging parents to contact state legislators and demand that they change the way Illinois' schools are funded. A law that would provide millions of dollars more for CPS passed the state Senate but faces an uncertain future in a politically gridlocked House of Representatives.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan haven't been able to agree on a budget, which was supposed to be approved more than 10 months ago.

Under state law, CPS must adopt a balanced budget by the end of August.

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