CPS to add social workers, case managers, but not enough for CTU

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CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools’ CEO announced Monday she’ll hire 160 new full-time social workers and 94 special education case managers for the new school year, but the teachers union says the hires still won’t make up for years of staffing cuts.

The $26 million in new school-based support staffers come as CPS falls under state control for the way it has handled special education students, and digs out of a massive sexual abuse scandal. And the announcement comes about a week after CEO Janice Jackson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who’ll face a crowded field of challengers, went public with the largest capital spending plan in recent memory.

Jackson said Monday that the brand new positions were assigned to schools most in need — one or two case managers for schools educating lots of special education students. The positions were being built into school budgets, which have been hammered in recent years of lean budgets, so the support staffers should last more than a single school year.

“We looked at the population of students that had been exposed to trauma,” she said. “We also looked at communities that had refugees and other special populations.”

Jackson’s remarks followed her speech at the City Club of Chicago, in which she laid out the challenges she has faced during her first seven months heading the schools. Her tenure has been plagued by a series of scandals, all but one of which she inherited from her predecessors. She worked Monday to convince the City Club crowd that she’s still the right person to lead the country’s third-largest school district under Emanuel.

“For those who are skeptical, I ask you to look at the things we are saying we’re going to do, look at where we are investing our money and you will see the city of Chicago and CPS is serious about betting on our children’s future,” she said.

But advocates said the added spending wouldn’t make up for the years of cuts since Emanuel took office nor bring ratios of students to social workers down sufficiently.

Brandon Johnson, a CTU organizer and middle school teacher, speaks at a press conference Monday. Johnson criticized the mayor’s policies for failing to adequately serve Chicago schools in need. | Yvonne Kim/Sun-Times

Brandon Johnson, a CTU organizer and middle school teacher, speaks at a press conference Monday. Johnson criticized the mayor’s policies for failing to adequately serve Chicago schools in need. | Yvonne Kim/Sun-Times

CPS’ current ratio is 1 to 1,200, and is recommended at 1 to 250 for students living in high poverty or with trauma, Raise Your Hand’s Jennie Biggs testified at a budget hearing.

“This budget, like many budgets passed, informs the public that you don’t value the social and emotional needs of Chicago students, many of which are living in concentrated poverty with high levels of trauma,” she said. “”Your announcement this morning is a start, but we have a long way to go, and this has a feeling of a PR move to us.”

Chicago Teachers Union officials said another 1,000 social workers are needed to meet those recommended minimums.

“We’ve called repeatedly for social workers and counselors and nurses,” said Brandon Johnson, a CTU organizer and Democratic candidate for Cook County Commissioner. “What’s tragic though in this moment is that this is inadequate.”

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