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Protesters Join Aldermen In Calling For $1,000 More Per CPS Pupil

By Ted Cox | July 27, 2016 2:38pm | Updated on July 29, 2016 11:55am
Kenwood High School LSC member Joy Clendenning says she's "beyond dismayed" over hidden budget cuts.
DNAinfo/Ted Cox

THE LOOP — Chicago Public Schools protesters joined aldermen Wednesday in calling for $1,000 more in per-pupil budgeting for the school year starting this fall.

Demonstrators outside the Board of Education meeting threw their support behind proposals submitted in the City Council last week to raise an estimated $400 million in new revenue for CPS, or about $1,000 a pupil.

Inside, Ald. George Cardenas (12th) told the board, "We've been tremendously stressed the last few months on school funding." Citing an estimated $29 million in cuts to schools in his ward, he called that "completely unacceptable" and urged the board to explore the option of claiming surplus Tax Increment Finance district funds citywide.

 Martin Ritter of the Chicago Teachers Union talks with Ald. George Cardenas before Wednesday's Board of Education meeting.
Martin Ritter of the Chicago Teachers Union talks with Ald. George Cardenas before Wednesday's Board of Education meeting.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

"Why not be creative and do more?" Cardenas said. "My schools cannot receive any more cuts."

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) added that TIFs had been "muddled and abused for decades" and said a TIF surplus as the source of additional school funding would be "easiest to implement."

Both Waguespack and Cardenas suggested CPS cuts were leading families to leave the city.

"The more we cut our schools to the bone, the more we lose families to surrounding suburbs," Waguespack said.

CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool insisted recent state funding had allowed the district to "protect classrooms from cuts, as we had feared," adding, "The good news is we didn't have to go any deeper."

Yet several CPS parents told the board otherwise, as did Chicago Teachers Union spokesman Martin Ritter.

"Contrary to statements in the press, classrooms are not protected" from budget cuts, Ritter said. He pointed out the measure was supported by 40 aldermen in the City Council and estimated that redistributing surplus TIF funds alone could produce a $150 million windfall for the district.

"There are indeed direct cuts that affected our classrooms," said Jeff Young, a Local School Council member at Darwin Elementary.

Erin Weinstein, a McPherson Elementary parent, said it was designated a welcoming school after Trumbull Elementary closed, resulting in students getting iPads and other devices, but added that the school had been forced to close the positions for its technology teachers.

"We can't get basic transparency from our district," added Wendy Katten of Raise Your Hand.

Joy Clendenning, a member of the Kenwood High School LSC and Raise Your Hand, pointed to a DNAinfo study suggesting school budget cuts had been underestimated by the district.

"I am beyond dismayed that our neighborhood high school is losing another $800,000," Clendenning said, adding the school had lost $3 million since 2012.

According to Clendenning, Kenwood has a level enrollment with a waiting list, but is losing staff by attrition, with the remaining employees suffering under "an unsustainable level of work."

"When I heard about this, I was shocked," said Michelle Leon, a sophomore at Kelly High School, which also has sustained deep budget cuts.

Protesters and aldermen believe they could raise $400 million, or an extra $1,000 per CPS pupil, through three measures: redistributing surplus Tax Increment Finance district funds citywide, raising the personal property lease tax (largely assessed on business equipment) and reinstating the city's employee head tax.

Young urged the Board of Education to "lobby the mayor for the maximum TIF surplus declaration possible."

"You need more revenue," Ritter said. "Please go for it."

Yet the head-tax proposal, submitted by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), was instantly derailed last week when Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) employed a parliamentary maneuver to send it to the Rules Committee.

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