In preliminary school budgets released Thursday, Chicago Public Schools expects to lose another 4,650 students in elementary and high schools in the coming school year.
More schools are projected to lose students than to gain them, according to school-by-school budget projections released late Thursday, a full day after individual principals learned of their own spending plans. Of the 646 total schools open this fall, 397 may lose at least one student, 18 are supposed to break even and 231, including four new schools, are slated to gain children.
Because the state’s largest school district budgets a set amount of money per student, varying slightly by grade, losing children means a drop in a school’s budget. And with state and federal governments allocating extra money for children it considers poor, a steep drop in low-income students can be devastating for a school.
CPS would not say how many children it expected to enroll in preschool programs, which make up the rest of its student population. Last year, they all totaled about 392,000 students, with K-12 students in district, charter and contract schools constituting 368,925 of them. This year, the district’s K-12 population isn’t expected to top 365,000.
Once again, the city’s beleaguered neighborhood high schools are projected to suffer some of the worst enrollment losses, both by raw number as well as percentage of enrollment.
Robeson High School and Manley High School each were projected to lose at least a quarter of last year’s students. Julian High School, where budget losses topped last year’s list, was slated to lose another 100 of 720 — or about 14 percent. CPS believes that Foreman High School also will lose about 180 of its 1,000 students.
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said this year’s overall enrollment drop of about 1.4 percent isn’t worse than in recent years, and she said that CPS now captures a larger share of school-age children in Chicago than in the past. Plus, CPS can’t control declining birth rates in the city and state.
But all those steady declines, combined with ongoing funding woes, have led the Chicago Teachers Union and others to question why CPS — which still hasn’t say how it will balance its budget with a gap of $300 million and another $205 million with strings attached — continues to build new schools, open new charters and enlarge crowded schools near empty ones.
“CPS and City Hall are wasting money on charter school expansion and unnecessary school construction, they are hiding money in TIF accounts, and have a demonstrated history of tucking federal dollars away from public view in district level accounts,” said Troy LaRaviere, the head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, after surveying many of his members. “CPS does not need to find money. It needs to stop wasting money.”
Four new schools will open in September: two charter schools with about 450 students so far between them; a district elementary school on the Far Southeast Side of about 588 children; and the revamped Dyett High School, which will start with 150 freshmen.
On Friday morning, a group of West Side parents and students plan to protest a proposed annex for Skinner West Elementary School, despite its proximity to the poorer William Brown Elementary School, which still boasts plenty of space, and a new charter school that would like to move into the neighborhood as well.
“Expanding schools when there is inadequate operational funding and extensive existing capital needs is a breach of fiduciary responsibility,” said Rosalind Jackson, a parent and Local School Council chair at Laura Ward Elementary School, an East Garfield Park school slated to lose 30 children.
But CPS said it’s also closing 11 schools. Two small high schools, Austin Business and Entrepreneurial High School and Austin Polytechnic High School are merging with VOISE High School in the West Side building they’ve long shared. Galapagos Charter School abruptly decided this spring to close, citing budget troubles. Four more charters were shuttered by CPS for poor performance, but three of them are attempting to reopen under state authority, which means their students and accompanying funds won’t be counted any longer by CPS.