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This 1929 Letter From CPS Boss Describes Funding Crisis Much Like Today's

LINCOLN SQUARE — Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool's warning that schools might not open in the fall sounded eerily familiar to one Lincoln Square homeowner.

A few years ago, Bob Ryan pulled a drawer out of his home's built-in hutch and an old letter fell to the ground.

"What's this?" Ryan wondered.

Addressed to the "Mothers and Fathers of Our Public School Children," the document, dated April 24, 1929, declared:

"The financial crisis confronting the Chicago Schools is so serious that the help of every parent is needed if our schools are to remain open."

Having taken "every conceivable economy" — outlined in a four-page attachment — the "Board of Education is at the end of the road," wrote then School Board president H. Wallace Caldwell.

"This is not due to what happened either this year or last year; it is the accumulation of many years.... No money is available for current operations or for past due loans.... The day of reckoning is here."

The letter encourages parents to contact their state legislators in support of a bill that would provide schools with temporary funds until a plan could be developed for "permanent financing."

[Bob Ryan]

Though Ryan came across the note some time ago, the words struck him as particularly relevant given the current CPS fiscal situation. CPS officials recently have asked parents to contact state lawmakers in hopes of changing the funding system.

"It keeps coming up over and over again. We don't solve problems," Ryan said. "There's got to be a better way."

Ryan and his wife are the parents of three CPS students — one graduate, one high-schooler and one in elementary school — and have chosen to remain in Chicago while other families have headed for the suburbs, a decision that gets harder to make every year, Ryan said.

"It's just driving everyone nuts," he said of the ongoing uncertainty surrounding CPS. "Why can't we get these things figured out?"

The knowledge that CPS clearly survived beyond 1929 is of little comfort to Ryan.

It's been nearly 90 years since Caldwell warned of a "day of reckoning," leaving Ryan to question, "Why are we still doing the same things?"

CPS Funding Crisis Flashback

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