KENWOOD — Budget cuts in Chicago Public Schools are cracking the culture at King College Prep, with laid- off teachers publicly lashing out at the school’s principal.
At a marathon four-hour local school council meeting Wednesday night at the school, at 4445 S. Drexel Blvd., angry former teachers claimed African-American staff were being pushed out of the school and publicly chastised Principal David Narain, who said the cuts were not based on race.
Other teachers caught up in budget cuts — which forced the school to eliminate four teacher positions and shift one employee to a half-time position — aimed their frustrations not at CPS, but against the school on Wednesday.
The school’s faculty is still majority African-American but has become more diverse in recent years.
Narain tried to calm the divided room of teachers, parents and students and a local school council that also seemed at times divided against itself.
“I am in the unfortunate position that I have to make decisions people don’t agree with,” Narain said.
After the meeting, Narain said his hands were tied when asked to publicly explain the layoffs because he is barred by CPS from discussing personnel matters. He said the decisions of which positions to cut were not based on race, but on seniority, evaluations and other criteria negotiated between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union.
Network Nine Chief of Schools Felicia Sanders pulled Narain and the LSC into an hourlong closed door meeting Wednesday night to sort out the issues at the school, but it is unclear what was discussed and Sanders offered no comment after the meeting.
That inability for Narain to discuss the details of why cuts are being made the way they are has allowed for speculation on social media to fill in the gaps.
Narain said he knows accusations against the school have gained momentum on Facebook and brought angry alumni to Wednesday’s meeting, worried the school is slipping just as it achieved CPS’ highest rating and discipline issues have dropped to their lowest levels in three years.
“The problem we have here at King is an adult problem,” Narain said. “Morale is an issue that needs to be addressed and that trickles down from the adults to the students.”
“People are not always going to be happy with change,” Narain said.
The LSC on Wednesday still seemed to be adjusting to that change.
Council members repeatedly pushed back against Narain on issues like hiring an off-duty police officer for five hours a day for $13,000 after budget cuts forced an early retirement for Reuben Norris. Norris was beloved at the school, where he had manned the front security desk and refereed basketball games for years, but Narain said the $60,000 required to keep him there was no longer affordable.
Students said the morale in the school was starting to slip and some said the debate about white versus black teachers now was dividing the school more than preserving its culture.
“There’s no sense of allegiance,” said Caleb Mitchell, a senior. “I’ve had Ms. McCaffrey and Ms. Hansberry for math and they both teach it differently and that’s not because of race.”
The school has struggled in the past with its identity as one of the South Side’s best schools that attracted some of the best African-American teachers in the city to teach at the selective-enrollment school whose student body is 93 percent African-American.
In 2013, the school developed a reputation as being hostile to white teachers after several white teachers quit amid public accusations that then-Principal Shontae Higginbottom was trying to push out teachers who were not African-American.
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