Chicago school budgets are being whacked this year, but district officials refuse to provide an accurate picture of school budgets as a whole.
Here is what we know:
- Last year in July, the district released school-level information that did not include special education. The total amount was $2.6 billion. In addition, CPS said it was budgeting $611 million for special education. That would mean that combined core instruction, supplemental and special education schools were budgeted at $3.2 billion.
- In February, the district made mid-year cuts that they said equal about $122 million. But now, district officials say that schools overall got about $2.76 billion. However, this includes spending on special education. Though asked by WBEZ repeatedly, district officials refused to say how much of the $2.76 billion was special education funding.
- Now, school district officials say they are budgeting $2.8 billion for schools, including special education.
The absence of information about how much the district actually spent on special education last year, and actually intends to spend this year, has caused confusion about how much schools are actually getting in this budget.
This is leaving Chicago principals in the position of having to struggle to explain that, despite public information that shows they are getting more money, they are getting less.
Many principals tell WBEZ that they will have to lay off teachers, even though CPS CEO Forrest Claypool declared that there will be no teacher layoffs and no cuts to the classroom.
One South Side high school principal said with a small enrollment decrease he is looking at laying off four teachers.
A North Side elementary school with an increase in enrollment might have to lay off two.
Several principals spoke to WBEZ on background. When told that information released to the media showed either increases or steady funding compared to last year, they responded with shock. The South Side high school principal responded: “I wish.”
New Chicago Principals Association President Troy LaRaviere said that principals are frustrated and insulted by the lack of transparency.
“It seems to hide and obscure the truth and it is so obvious,” he says. “Why don’t you tell us the truth: this is going to suck.”
He says that it seems like officials are relying on a lot of gimmicks to make comparisons difficult and leave principals struggling to explain to parents what is going on. For example, he says the district cut the budget for assistant principals, but says they are hiring some central office staff to do some of the tasks assistant principals did.
CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner reiterated on Monday that the only school-level layoffs should be due to a school experiencing an enrollment drop. Schools get a stipend for each student that attends.
CPS also said, in addition to special education, there were other positions, programs and supports that were shifted from school level budgets to central office and vice versa. They provided a few examples, but refused to provide complete information that would explain the discrepancy in the overall budget numbers.