Some Chicago Public School parents from schools harshly impacted by freezes in funding used CPS’s budget hearings Monday to unleash their anger at Gov. Bruce Rauner.
And others urged CPS officials to stop waiting for the state to hand over money and take matters into their own hands.
The two budget hearings are a legal requirement for the district before it asks the Board of Education to approve a third version of its operating budget later this month — a budget that’s still $111 million short.
“Our budget was balanced until we had a $215 million veto from Gov. Rauner,” said school finance chief Ronald DeNard. “That created a $215 million hole in our budget.”
He was referring to money CPS counted on from the state to balance its last budget. Rauner vetoed legislation providing that funding in December, saying that its conditions requiring “pension reform” hadn’t been met.
CPS mom Latoya Lark, the first of a dozen parents who blasted the governor using CEO Forrest Claypool’s words, said during the afternoon hearing, “It’s outrage that Gov. Rauner would wait until the middle of the school year and then drop a bomb and cut money from schools in the middle of the school year,” Did he do that to maximize the harm to our kids?”
Rosalind Jackson-Harvey likened Rauner to the new president as Claypool has, saying, “Just like President Trump, Gov. Rauner has no clue about public education and neither does he care. Give us our $215 million back!”
But Erica Clark of the Parents 4 Teachers group said that “This blame game is getting us nowhere. You’re asking us to cross our fingers and hold our breath and hope the governor comes through with some money. … You‘ve said the budget was balanced? The budget was never balanced. That was funny money all long. Who do you guys think you’re fooling?”
Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis also urged the board to find revenue solutions on its own.
“Waiting for Gov. Rauner’s cold, evil heart to melt, to me, is just a waste of time and energy when you have other things you could be doing,” she said.
Hancock College Prep High School sophomore Jesus Sanchez said his school already doesn’t have enough books or instruments.
“How do they expect us to learn in these conditions?” he asked the Board of Education. “It’s not only the governor’s fault but CPS. CPS has the power to do something and needs to stand up for what’s right for the students, staff and teachers at CPS.”
Sanchez continued, “If you really did care about our education, you would do everything in your power to do what’s necessary to help us.” Students from other high schools walked out with him, chanting, “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts.”
Rauner’s education secretary Beth Puvis defended the governor’s position, saying that, “Unfortunately, parents don’t have all the facts. We’ve been saying . . . we don’t understand how you can blame a governor who’s been here for two years for decades of mismanagement.”
She encouraged the families to put their support behind legislation resulting from Rauner’s bipartisan school funding reform commission that said the state should spend at least $3.5 billion more over the next decade on schools and that new money should help poor districts before wealthier ones.
Meanwhile, a “grand bargain” that includes the pension money for Chicago’s school system is currently being discussed among state leaders, who continue to hash out a budget for the entire state.
CPS has cut $104 million in ways it believes could be rolled back if the grand bargain becomes fact, including four scheduled unpaid furlough days aimed at saving $35 million.
Officials are said to be considering a variety of possibilities to bridge a remaining $111 million gap, including shortening the school year. The state would permit at least four fewer school days before docking CPS its share of state funding.
DeNard took 90 seconds to present the new budget — now $5.411 billion instead of $5.5 billion — in broad strokes: $46 million in spending “freezes” to schools; another $5 million in centrally funded teacher training; and another possible $18 million in cuts to charter schools funding.
He insisted that no federal Title I money allocated for poor children would be taken from schools but admitted that schools may have to make other cuts to protect that money.
“Because typically if federal funds are allocated, they’re for a specific purpose. So if those are being frozen, how else can CPS use that funding?“ wondered Celia Chavez, a Local School Council representative at Blaine Elementary School. “We have issues with the lack of transparency and how the formula was decided on the budget cuts.”