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CPS releases school-by-school budgets for September

After a weekend of problems with budgeting software, Chicago Public Schools published individual school budgets on Monday.

In response to last year’s outcry over co-mingled funds, special education funding has been broken out separately so it’s clear what each school will have to spend, though it’s still not entirely clear how CPS officials arrived at those figures.

The state’s largest but shrinking district projects it will lose about 8,000 students overall, less than last year’s whopping 11,000 enrollment decline. District-run elementary schools may lose 6,204 students, high schools about 1,500. Charter and contract schools are projected to gain about 650 students, but a handful of charter schools are still adding entire grades. The district’s alternative schools for students at risk of dropping out or already gone from traditional schools may lose 467 students.

Neighborhood high schools are continuing a troubling trend of losing students. About 20 of the biggest losses to school population are happening at open-enrollment high schools, according to CPS’ projections.

Some principals in district-run as well as charter schools have complained that their projected enrollments seem really low.

“That projection is definitely off for Legal Prep,” school principal Sam Finkelstein said. “We anticipate serving around 370 students this coming year as opposed to the 286 students listed on the sheet.”

About 300 schools are losing money and 330 gaining money compared to last year. Some 85 schools are so sparsely enrolled or slated to lose so many students they’re getting part of $11.5 million in program support, without which they couldn’t afford to program a full roster of courses.

Final numbers will be adjusted after an official count is taken on the 20th day of school.

CPS still employs a per-pupil funding mechanism called “student-based budgeting” which allocates a sum of money per student. Last year’s rates went up by about $200 per child to cover raises mandated by new labor contracts, so each student in kindergarten to third grade gets $4,590, each fourth- to eighth-grader $4,290, and high schoolers $5,390 each.

Schools projected for a large enrollment drop or rise are contending with big budget changes. But what’s confusing is how schools where enrollment is predicted to remain exactly the same will see big losses, such as Christopher Elementary School, which is slated to lose almost $700,000, or about 10 percent since last year, or increases, such as UNO-Tamayo Elementary School, which will see a 7 percent budget increase since last year, or $159,000 more.

CPS couldn’t explain that on Monday.

Following last year’s outcry about opaque funding for special education students lumped in with money for general education, district officials revamped special education funding, using a yet-to-be revealed formula to determine how many teachers and aides each school needed. But CPS allocated $100,000 for each teacher and $50,000 per aide.

That’s not enough to actually pay for them, said James Gray, who recently resigned as principal of Hamilton Elementary School.

“CPS funding ‘district salary average’ of Sped teachers and paraprofessionals is wrong. Many schools do not have enough $ to pay for staff,” he wrote on Twitter.

Four out of five special ed aides cost more than $50,000 last year, and are entitled to raises this year, Gray said. He also calculated, based on the latest payroll filed posted to CPS’ website, that last year’s average cost of a special ed teacher was $101,182, and that they too are entitled to raises settled in the Chicago Teachers Union contract.

Principals with more expensive teachers than average qualify for a teacher salary adjustment, district spokeswoman Emily Bittner said, adding that the increase in the per-pupil rate also could cover higher staff costs.

All school budgets assume than an extra $300 million in state funding will arrive at CPS, via a bill the governor has vowed to veto as a “CPS bailout.”