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Rogers Park Principals Warn Against Cuts: 'We're Fighting For Our Children'

By Linze Rice | May 25, 2016 6:33pm
 Principals, community members, parents, teachers and students marched across Rogers Park Wednesday afternoon to protest ongoing budget cuts and warn what will happen if their schools don't receive adequate funding.
New Field Funding Rally March
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ROGERS PARK — Principals from five Chicago Public Schools in Rogers Park joined the chorus of principals across the North Side Wednesday to rally alongside hundreds of community members for funding — and warned what will happen without it.

"That affects not only children at New Field ... anywhere in the city, those 25-39 percent cuts are going to affect your child," New Field Principal Carlos Patiño said.

Patiño was joined by Christine Jabbari, Principal of Rogers Elementary; Otis Dunson, principal of Armstrong Elementary; Cassandra Washington, principal at Gale Elementary; and Jean Papagianis, principal at Kilmer Elementary for a quick speech before leading the community on a massive march around the neighborhood.

Chants in English and Spanish demanded money from Springfield now.

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) called the group, which also included assistant principals from Kilmer and Rogers, some of the "best, most dedicated" principals he knew.

Each told the sea of students, parents, community members and teachers packed into New Field's cafeteria they were told to expect budget cuts of anywhere from 20 to nearly 40 percent for the next school year.

"All the work that we have put into not just Kilmer, but all of the Rogers Park schools to make Rogers Park the heart of Chicago ... they will cut off our life source," Papagianis said. "Will we survive? Yes we will survive, we will not thrive."

For many principals, that means major cuts to staff sizes, school maintenance, after school and enrichment activities, special education resources, general materials and more.

Israel Ladipo, a 9-year-old third-grader at New Field, said his favorite subject was art and held a sign demanding more funding for his school to "stop budget checks from happening for the future of New Field."

Next to him was Deanne Straughn, a parent to a New Field second-grader, who draped herself in an American flag meant to symbolize both Memorial Day and to "remember our children as well."

"Soldiers who sacrificed for us and our families would want us to remember our children," Straughn said.

Deanne Straughn said she wore the American flag to the rally to "remember our children." [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

Dunson, whose school has more than 1,400 students enrolled, said he expected to see about $1.1 million-$2.4 million slashed from his budget, which would cost him between 15-20 teachers and up his class sizes to between 33-38 kids.

Jabbari said those cuts would also cause her to have to lose about 15 staff members, and Washington said she would probably have $600,000 less to work with — a major problem for her school, which has already lost millions in the last few years, she said.

Patiño said his budget would likely be slashed by about $800,000, and would lose upward of 13 teachers.

"I am extremely worried that we have made great progress, not just in Rogers Park, but throughout the city and these cuts will have drastic effects for many, many years," Patiño said. "I have always believed education is the great equalizer to social injustice, to racism ... further cutting our educational funds makes things much, much worse."

Two New Field Elementary students protest together. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

Principals have been told to expect at least 40 percent in cuts to the amount each school gets per student, and said if Gov. Bruce Rauner would make up for a 5 percent gap in what the state contributes to CPS, it could potentially bring in as much as $500 million this year alone, Patiño said.

Though CPS students account for 20 percent of the state's student population and Chicago residents pay 20 percent of Illinois' income tax, CPS only receives 15 percent of the state's education budget — an imbalance that schools say are devastating to the future of education in the city.

Rather, schools are bracing for a $74 million cut.

"Teachers are going to go on summer break with an uncertain future, with possibly no job, no resources next year to support our students — whereas our representatives downstate ... are going to leave for the summer session having accomplished nothing, having done nothing for our students," Patiño said.

Moore agreed, and said when taking into account need and other unique factors, like poverty levels, CPS should receive more than 20 percent.

"No disrespect to our neighbors up north, but they have resources to be able to provide for their children, where they can take that little bit of a haircut," Moore said. "The fact of the matter is, we've got more than a haircut here, we've already cut to the bone."

Earlier this month, 11 CPS principals from Edgewater and other North Side schools gathered at Senn High School to hold a panel, moderated by Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), on the dire state of school funding.

Principals urged parents and community members to flood legislators with calls to make changes to the state's education funding formula.

At the end of the day, Washington said schools would do what they had to in order to survive, but it would be children's education that paid the ultimate price without adequate funding.

"If we're fighting for anyone, we're fighting for our children," Washington said. "They are the future of our city, the future of our country, the future of our world. Let's stand up for them."

The march leaving New Field and heading down Morse Avenue. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

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