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CPS to hold budget hearings this week

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Chicago Public Schools has been talking about money nonstop for months as it has wrangled with a $1.1 billion budget deficit and insufficient funding.

This week, it’s the public’s turn to talk back.

The state’s largest school district is holding a series of meetings this week for members of the public to share two minutes’ worth of their minds.

CPS officials will gather feedback on the proposed capital budget of at least $338 million on Wednesday evening, and on Thursday, on a new plan to raise up to $250 million with a property tax levy dedicated to teacher pensions that still need approval from the Board of Education.

But unlike past years, when hearings on the schools’ operating budget were held in evenings out in neighborhoods so working parents could easily attend, these are scheduled for downtown during the workday for the convenience of Board of Education members, CPS said.

That’s despite a recent turnabout by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose original decision to hold morning meetings on police misconduct at City Hall was deemed a farce by the commissioner he selected to oversee reforms, the head of the Urban League and activists. Their protestations applied enough public pressure to have several more nighttime neighborhood hearings added to the process.

CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner defended the Friday daytime budget hearings, saying that they accommodate the schedules and availability of board members “to ensure a robust community input ahead of the Board vote later this month.”

By law, the schools’ budget must be approved by the Board of Education before Sept. 1. They will take it up at their Aug. 24 meeting, where it is expected to sail through. They’re also tasked with enacting the $250 million tax levy for pensions.

Bittner said the evening hearings on the capital budget also will provide the public with a chance to talk about other budget issues as well.

“CPS is doubling the number of hearings we had last year to provide all stakeholders ample opportunities to weigh in on our proposed budget ahead of the upcoming school year,” she wrote in an email. “We have scheduled a total of six hearings to accommodate members of the public to attend at their convenience in order to garner robust input by the community on all aspects of this year’s proposed budget.”

CEO Forrest Claypool unveiled his budget recommendations earlier this month, claiming they would keep cuts away from classrooms despite spending $232 million less than last year.

But balancing his proposed $5.4 billion operating budget depends on more than $200 million from Springfield, which is contingent on lawmakers passing pension reform, and on $31 million in concessions from the Chicago Teachers Union. For its part, the union has already responded with threats they could strike at an undetermined time in the upcoming school year.

This year’s capital budget also contains a number of controversial projects, including a $20 million annex for the elite Skinner West magnet school in the booming West Loop despite plenty of space at nearby Brown Elementary, a neighborhood school that serves mainly low-income African-American children, and a similar expansion for the overcrowded South Loop Elementary School.

Capital budget hearings will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 17 at:

Bridge Elementary, 3800 N. New England Ave.; National Teacher’s Academy, 55 W. Cermak Road; and Kennedy High School, 6325 W. 56th St.
Registration for a two-minute speaking slot: 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Hearing: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The Truth-in-Taxation hearing will be held on Thursday, Aug. 18 at: Board of Education chambers, 42 W. Madison St.
Registration for a two-minute speaking slot: 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Hearing: 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Budget hearings will be held on Friday at the CPS Loop Office, 42 W. Madison St.:
Registration for a two-minute speaking slot: 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., then noon to 1 p.m. Hearings: 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., then 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.