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Charters and contract schools also facing CPS budget cuts

It appears charter schools will suffer bigger budget hits should the debt-ridden Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Teachers Union fail to reach a contract deal in coming weeks.

All Chicago charter schools will take a financial hit if Chicago Public Schools cannot work out a contract with the Chicago Teachers Union.

The city’s charter and contract schools learned details of their possible funding cuts Wednesday, a day after CPS principals were told of their budget cuts ahead of potential staff layoffs on Feb. 29.

It appears the privately managed but publicly funded schools would take bigger budget hits if the debt-ridden district overseeing them and a teachers union that doesn’t work for them fails to reach a contract deal soon.

The three worst decreases are contracts and charters: Camelot SAFE in Garfield Park, Camelot SAFE and Chicago International Charter Schools’ ChicagoQuest High School. And unlike district-run schools, all of the charters and contract schools could lose money, ranging from 0.66 percent of their budgets up to 4.02 percent. An analysis of data released by CPS late Tuesday showed that more than 40 district schools will see their budgets increase, partly because the district’s late release of schools’ state money they hadn’t spent in previous years.

CPS said it doesn’t hold any extra state money for charters, instead doling it all out quarterly.

CPS announced Tuesday it is planning to reduce all school budgets by $120 million, despite recently borrowing $725 million through a bond sale, saying it must cut back unless state legislators fix its pension system or the CTU reaches a contract deal.

That equaled about a 5 percent cut to per-pupil funding in all schools, about $15.8 million across all the privately managed schools. District-run schools would get about $32 million back in federal Title I and Title II money; the charters about $6.3 million, but CPS is making them apply again for the money, get approved and then submit their claims.

District-run schools could face layoffs on Feb. 29. Principals at those schools have a week to finalize new budgets that will go into effect if ongoing contract negotiations fail to reach a deal.

Charters are funded quarterly by CPS based on enrollment, so they will see their cuts come entirely out of their April payment.

Charter and contract principals were notified at a meeting Wednesday morning with chief education officer Janice Jackson.

Jennifer Kirmes, principal of Amandla Charter School in Englewood, couldn’t attend — she had a visit from the Illinois Charter School Commission she hopes will reverse CPS’ decision to close the school.

But the closing also meant some of her staff left unexpectedly. Filling those gaps carefully combined with Amandla’s existing firm finances means no one will be laid off as a result of losing almost 1.8 percent of the school’s budget, she told the Sun-Times on Wednesday.

Amandla also looked outside for grants and crowdsourcing to fund field trips and other student extras, she said.

The Betty Shabazz charter schools on the South Side might not be so lucky, though CEO David Ireland said he’s looking at other ways — furloughs, perhaps, to keep all his staff at three campuses.

“It’s tough because at this point in the school year, you can’t cut back on supplies — that’s already ordered,” he said.

Last year, Shabazz set aside some reserves that it can draw on, he said, but CPS’ larger fiscal woes are hurting the charter chain’s ability to borrow.

“We’ve been trying to establish a credit line, but that’s really difficult because everyone knows our revenue is dependent on CPS,” he said.

Andrew Broy of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools worried the reduced base funding could be the new normal for charter schools, many of which have fixed capital facility expenses regardless of enrollment. Meanwhile, his member schools can’t do much to influence the outcome of negotiations, he said, adding, “We don’t really have a voice in what’s happening to them.”

The CTU — whose members don’t staff any charter schools — has accused CPS of putting “unnecessary” pressure on negotiations in the wake of last week’s rejection of the district’s latest contract offer.

Both parties continue to negotiate with a mediator. They’ve been joined at least once by a professional fact-finder whose expertise must be considered before the CTU may strike.