clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

CPS faces questions from public, school board over proposed budget

Dual sessions at the downtown CPS headquarters focused on the district’s operating budget plan, which divvies dollars for schools’ day-to-day needs, such as teacher and staff pay and programming.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson spoke Tuesday at a hearing about the $7.7 billion school budget proposal released earlier this month
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s seven-member school board peppered Chicago Public Schools administrators with questions Tuesday at a pair of hearings meant to offer the public a chance to comment on the school district’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year.

The board’s attendance at the two budget hearings — much less asking questions and having them answered — was a divergence from its predecessor that was viewed by many as a rubber stamp for former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s education policies.

The dual sessions at the downtown CPS headquarters — one at 4 p.m. and another at 6:30 p.m. — focused on the district’s operating budget plan, which divvies dollars for schools’ day-to-day needs, such as teacher and staff pay and programming.

Between both hearings, six of the seven board members asked questions, while in the second session board president Miguel Del Valle went back and forth with CPS CEO Janice Jackson on funding of schools with declining enrollment.

The district announced in the spring — and laid out in this budget — that 219 schools with low or declining enrollments — which have been hurt by per-pupil funding formulas — will get more money via $31 million in “equity grant funding.”

Still, Del Valle worried that schools could be hurt even with the extra help — a point that CPS assistant budget director Michael Sitkowski confirmed when he said about a quarter of CPS schools would see decreased funding from last year.

“I would argue that those schools are actually getting the same amount, if not more, because we’re actually giving them more money than they originally would have been allocated based on their student-based budgeting,” Jackson said.

“I understand that, that’s what the equity grants are for,” Del Valle responded. “But how many of those schools are seeing a dramatic decline in this year’s budget?”

Jackson said she could look into finding an exact number but that the equity grants were an effort on the part of CPS to offset those losses.

The $7.7 billion budget proposal released earlier this month was about $117 million larger than last year’s, making it the district’s largest ever.

The majority of the questions from the school board were asked of CPS Chief Talent Officer Matt Lyons about social workers, nurses, case managers and librarians — the shortage of which has been a hot topic for parents and educators who have worried about the impact on students in trauma-filled environments.

Lightfoot and Jackson touted a plan last month to hire “at least” 200 social workers and 250 nurses within the next five years, on which Lyons said a “down payment” is included in this year’s budget.

Critics, among them the Chicago Teachers Union, said promises for new hires have been made in the past, only for job vacancies to remain open. Just last year, for example, Jackson said she would hire 160 new full-time social workers and 94 special-education case managers for the new school year.

Though those positions were budgeted, the district has had trouble finding people for the jobs, Lyons said Tuesday. That resulted in only 40 of 160 new social worker vacancies filled last year.

“You will see we still have vacancies from those additional 160, but we will start this coming school year with more social workers on staff at CPS than we’ve had at any point in the last decade,” Lyons told the board. “That is just a fact.”

About a dozen public speakers commented on the budget through the two hearings Tuesday, the majority of them from the CTU.

Three additional simultaneous hearings are set to be held at different schools Wednesday for public discussion of the capital budget, which pays for improvements and repairs to school facilities — such as building infrastructure, heating and cooling systems and technology.

Those hearings will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at: Amundsen High School, 5110 N. Damen Ave.; Morgan Park High School, 1744 W. Pryor Ave.; and Whitney Young Magnet High School, 211 S. Laflin St.

The board will further discuss and vote on the proposed budget at its monthly meeting Aug. 28.