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Claypool to lead buses to Springfield but urged to act locally

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool (pictured in March 2016) said at Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Education: “CPS has reached the point of no return. There’s no question, without equal funding from the state, these cuts will be extreme." | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

A chorus of supporters told Chicago Public Schools they would join the disrict’s bid Thursday to wrest some action out of Springfield, but they also warned the Board of Education not to hide behind the state when the city and district also hold some financial power.

Parents from district-run and charter schools alike bemoaned proposed budget cuts. The reductions could shake out to about a quarter of schools’ spending if CPS has to finalize its budget with a $1 billion gap without any help from state legislators.

“CPS has reached the point of no return,” CEO Forrest Claypool said at Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Education. “There’s no question, without equal funding from the state, these cuts will be extreme.”

The session winds down on May 31. The most promising bill to revamp the state’s school funding formula awaits action in the House of Representatives headed by powerful speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago’s Southwest Side. Meanwhile Madigan floated a plan Wednesday with an extra $500 million for all schools that the governor has already dismissed.

“There’s only one week left, so we need to to make a statement the governor cannot ignore,” said Claypool, who will rally at the state capital Thursday at noon with heads of other low-income districts. Many schools have committed to sending buses of principals and families to join him in lobbying lawmakers, and he has encouraged CPS principals and families to join him in lobbying their lawmakers.

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Even Raise Your Hand, a parent group frequently among CPS’ critics, said members were flooding the offices of the governor and other lawmakers with phone calls, member Joy Clendenning said.

“We need you to join with us in demanding that our public servants serve the public. Of course, Gov. Rauner, of course, our legislators in Springfield, but even though the mayor appointed you, you’re here to serve the children of Chicago, and we need you to talk to the mayor,” about local solutions,” she said. “We believe it will be even more convincing for Springfield if we show what we’re doing up here in Chicago as well.”

Critics say Springfield can’t fix the entire problem. Even if all current school funding bills were to pass, they wouldn’t plug CPS’ entire projected budget shortfall.

The Board of Education also has a responsibility to advocate for more money for CPS by raiding the city’s tax-increment financing accounts, and to spend what they have more wisely, said Sabah Hussain, a student at Lane Tech High School, which that could lose more than $8 million from its operating budget.

“It’s not the fairly recent undoing of Springfield that has caused the current state of turmoil and crisis in Chicago. You cannot use Springfield’s mismanagement to cover up your own wrongdoings and your inaction over the past couple of years,” she said. “Dear unelected school council, do your job and fund our education.”

Parent Janet Meegan also wouldn’t let the city off the hook. Her children’s school, Von Linne, is in line to lose more than $1 million — or eight teaching positions.

“I’ve done my part,” she said. “I’ve been to Springfield three times this year asking for fair funding. I pay my taxes. I volunteer at my children’s school including a ridiculous amount of fundraising. I donate supplies monthly. I am here to ask you to do your part. My children have done enough to balance your budget.”

Her husband and Roosevelt High School social studies teacher Tim Meegan filed a complaint Wednesday with the school system’s inspector general accusing Claypool’s rally of ethical violations against political activity. In his letter, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, he said Claypool directed subordinates to use district time and money to plan the Springfield rally, including paying for buses downstate, food for participants, salaries for administrators who go and don’t have to use personal time, and substitutes to cover classes.

“The problem is that they are using CPS time and resources and employees to promote this getting money from Springfield when the primary responsibility for funding our schools lies with Chicago,” said Tim Meegan, who ran unsuccessfully for alderman last year.

The IG’s office would confirm only that it received the letter Wednesday. CPS did not immediately respond to questions.