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CPS seeks $75 million to deal with coronavirus crisis

If approved by the Chicago Public Schools board, the resolution would immediately give district officials ultimate flexibility in addressing the crisis through the end of June.

Chicago Department of Public Health workers set up a tent outside Vaughn Occupational High School.
Chicago Department of Public Health workers set up a tent outside Vaughn Occupational High School.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools administrators are asking the city’s school board for $75 million to address the coronavirus emergency over the next several months.

The request, which would allow the district to decide how it wants to spend the money without prior board approval or immediate public notice, is part of the agenda for Wednesday’s monthly board meeting.

If approved by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s seven-member school board, the resolution would immediately give district officials ultimate flexibility in addressing the crisis through the end of June, unless otherwise changed by the board. All money spent on coronavirus response since March 5 would also be approved under the measure.

The board resolution’s purpose is “to empower the leadership of CPS to act quickly and effectively to obtain the necessary products, supplies, services and staff, expend funds and take all necessary measures and actions to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak,” the agenda item says.

The district has no shortage of expenses as it deals with the growing crisis. The funds could be used for paying for a vendor to clean the district’s hundreds of school buildings, which CPS has already done, or for buying more cleaning supplies. CPS has also continued to pay all teachers and staff, both full- and part-time, and is paying extra wages to security guards and lunchroom staff who are working during the closures.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said other expenses would include meal programs, additional products and maintenance and remote learning, including the “implementation of a larger device equity strategy.”

Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said CPS should focus on using the money to bridge the district’s equity gap during school closures.

“Right now we have students that do not have access to the internet, that do not have access to a computer,” Davis Gates said. “Making sure kids have hotspots and computers should be priority number one.”

The resolution would allow CPS to spend more than $75,000 on any single purchase, essentially eliminating the current threshold for actions that require board approval. The district is also asking for the ability to sign new vendor contracts or extend existing ones without prior board approval.

CPS might not spend the whole $75 million over the next few months; the measure simply allows CPS to spend up to that much. Schools chief Janice Jackson would have to start presenting to the board all of the district’s coronavirus-related expenses in July.

CPS says on the agenda that it will collaborate with city and state public health officials to implement emergency plans such as environmental cleaning, communication with families, web-based educational instruction and other meal and social services.