HUMBOLDT PARK — About 100 students and teachers protesting the latest round of CPS budget cuts and the district's "reckless" borrowing took to the 606's Bloomingdale Trail Thursday morning — and they brought two dozen desks.
The protesters, all members of Logan Square Neighborhood Association, lined both sides of the popular trail near the Humboldt Boulevard entrance with desks, holding signs that read, "No more excuses. Fund our schools."
Organizers said the desks were meant to demonstrate the cost of budget cuts, as well as CPS' long-term borrowing deal, which has been criticized by some as short-term thinking that will cost a fortune in the long run.
"I stand here, 30 years after my parents immigrated to the city for jobs and opportunities and quality education from New Orleans, Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. ... Here I stand, in 2017, scared for the future education of my unborn children," said Jhoanna Maldonado, a teacher and local school council member at Yates Elementary School, 1839 N. Richmond St.
Maldonado added: "I work down the street from the 606, where there are luxury homes next to students' homes who do not receive adequate funding and who do not have proper services, and who I cannot properly serve on a day-to-day basis. ... We are here to demand that the mayor put money into schools."
Maldonado, along with youth leaders, called for the city to use surplus tax increment financing money and reinstate a corporate head tax to plug the CPS budget gap — a common refrain among city activists.
"Saying, 'I'm broke, I'm broke, I'm broke' is no longer a valid excuse," said Priscilla Tito, a student at Schurz High School, 3601 N. Milwaukee Ave.
"Programs are being cut. Teachers are being let go. No one should be deprived of resources when there's more than enough money to go around. Rahm and Rauner need to start using the money wisely and start investing in our future by bringing revenue into our city," she said.
CPS on Monday announced plans to lay off 956 employees, including 356 teachers, less than a month before the new school year is set to start.
While schools will get $200 more per student during the 2017-18 school year than the 2016-17 school year, the overall CPS budget will shrink by about $43 million, officials said.
Reductions in the CPS budget come as officials expect enrollment to drop by 8,000 students. Last year, enrollment dropped by more than 13,800 students, data shows.
The cuts come after CPS unveiled a $500 million long-term borrowing deal to keep public schools open through the end of the school year and to make the required payment to the teachers' pension fund.
Thursday's protest was largely peaceful, only blocking joggers and cyclists from using the trail for a few minutes when the desks were briefly moved to the middle of the trail. During most of the protest, though, the desks were off to the side to make sure trail users could pass. A couple of police officers were there to ensure order.
Neither the Mayor's Office nor CPS immediately responded to a request for comment on the protest.