CPS ‘welcoming schools’ slated to lose 5% of their budgets

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Last fall, Chicago Public Schools heralded benefits such as science labs, iPads and extra cash going to schools that would take in students from permanently shuttered schools.

This year, those same schools are losing, on average, about 5 percent of their budgets — from $275.9 million at the end of 2014 to $262.6 million proposed for 2015, according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis of CPS’ proposed 2015 budget unveiled last week.

That’s a steeper loss on average than neighborhood schools overall, which will lose about 2.3 percent of their budgets compared with the 2014 school year that just ended, if the Board of Education approves CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s budget recommendations wholesale at the end of the month.

CPS’ 2015 budget is about 3 percent larger than its 2014 budget, though the district says it’ll serve about 100 fewer students, falling to 400,445 from the 400,545 it counted as enrolled on the 20th day of the 2013-14 school year. The district is expanding the fiscal year during which it collects property taxes to fill most of a projected $876.3 million deficit in the $5.76 billion 2015 budget.

Last year,when Byrd-Bennett began tying funding directly to enrollment, she said she would hold schools harmless whether or not children projected to show up actually did, cushioning the blow one more year. That decision benefitted, among others, the “welcoming schools” that didn’t attract as many students as CPS thought they would.

About 200 students didn’t show up at Jose De Diego Elementary Community Academy, 1313 N. Claremont, said Alyx Pattison, a community representative on De Diego’s Local School Council. And her school knew it wouldn’t get the $200,000 sent to welcoming schools, just the one-time help with the transition. And they knew early on last year that about 200 kids projected to show up then went to other schools. But now they’re going to have to deal with fewer staff members. They’re going to lose 4.5 positions, according to the online budget, because they’re slated to have 78 fewer students compared with last year.

That’s going to hurt the culture of a school that’s not done transitioning, Pattison said. The money De Diego got last year let the school keep class sizes small enough to stave off problems of blending in kids from Von Humboldt and de Duprey.

“Creating a culture is critical, and money helps with being able to manage,” she said. “A teacher can spot an issue in a class of 19 he or she might not otherwise spot in a class of 27 or 28 kids.

“Until the cultures are really blended, a gradual stepdown would really be in order,” she said.

A CPS spokeswoman declined to speak on the record. Instead, she emailed a “fact sheet” that said that $3.5 million of the $13.3 million cuts at welcoming schools caused by a shift in operations, and $4.2 million more will come from leftover state funds for poor kids from 2014 that have not yet been rolled out to schools in 2015.

And of the 39 welcoming schools that have a decrease of more than $70,000 in their total budgets, 10 also will see increases in core instruction, diverse learners and early childhood spending.

Courtenay Elementary, 4420 N Beacon St., which blended with Stockton, also is projected to lose about 47 students — and about $800,000 — but gain 23 staff positions, according to the budget.

Pre-K teacher Claudia Pesanti said that doesn’t make sense because at least five teachers and two temporarily assigned teachers were let go.

“I’m confused about how these positions are going to be funded when we just had cuts for lack of funding,” she said. “So I’m wondering where this funding is coming from.”

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