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CPS says it will avoid cuts to classrooms in school budgets

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After a turbulent year of steep cuts and predictions of further financial catastrophe, Chicago Public Schools educators will finally learn this week what their school budgets will look like after CPS promised classrooms “will be protected.”

Now that major funding sources have been put in place — about $350 million in new funding from a state stopgap budget plus another $250 million from new city property taxes — school budgets are expected to be unveiled Wednesday at a daylong series of meetings for principals.

“Just two weeks ago, with a $1 billion deficit looming and financial reserves depleted, we were faced with devastating choices for our classrooms. As you know, deep cuts were predicted — the impact on our students, dreaded,” CEO Forrest Claypool and chief education officer Janice Jackson wrote in a letter Friday to principals. “Thanks to three important factors — the compromise reached in Springfield last week, our own management reforms, and participation from Chicagoans — we are now confident our classrooms will be protected.”

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner would not guarantee that schools would see no cuts – just classrooms.

The district is still searching for $300 million in revenue, cuts or a combination to plug a $1.1 billion deficit. Bittner would not say how CPS plans to compensate for the gap but said more details would be offered this week.

The mid-July unveiling of what schools may spend in the fiscal year that began July 1 is late even for CPS. It is the second year in a row. Fallout from a criminal investigation of the former CEO delayed the release last summer.

The budgets certainly won’t be as bad as projected to a handful of schools back in May when the district expected to cut per-pupil funding as much as 40 percent over last year’s allotment, stoking fears of 40 kids to a class.

State law requires the Board of Education to approve a budget by Aug. 31. It also requires hearings for the public to comment on the budget beforehand.

Last year, CPS got itself into trouble by passing a budget that was $480 million short, relying on state lawmakers to close that gap. They did not, resulting in mid-year budget cuts and unpaid furlough days for union and non-union staffers alike at Illinois’ largest school district.

Wendy Katten of the parent group Raise Your Hand was anxious about seeing the school spending plans

“No one feels out of the woods, and no one feels secure. And there’s a lot of fear but also no trust in what is really going on, and we need a better handle on what these numbers are,” she said.

She said the city still could take action — such as releasing all the surplus tax increment financing number – to ensure schools would be fully funded.

“You have to remember we’re starting from a place where there’s sub-par funding, and people should not forget that,” she said.

And there still are no answers on how CPS plans to keep fully funding its schools.

Charter schools also awaited news of budgets after the Illinois Network of Charter Schools warned earlier this year that a dozen could close if cuts exceeded more than 10 percent.

On Friday, the organization’s head, Andrew Broy, declined to speculate.

Charters will receive their first payment by July 22, but only a fraction of the quarterly sum they expected. The rest will be paid in August and September, according to CPS.