Austin schools face budget cuts this year

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When an estimated 1,000 children entered their welcoming schools this week after the closure of four elementary schools in Austin, every one of those students started the year with fewer teachers, less books or reduced services due to budget cuts.

These cuts amount to about $15 million for the Austin-North Lawndale Elementary Network, according to the Chicago Public Schools FY 2014 preliminary budgets – scheduled to be voted on Aug. 28 by the Chicago Board of Education.

Ella Flagg Young Elementary School is one of 68 elementary schools citywide losing funding for art, and Ronald E. McNair Elementary School lost librarian positions, according to the advocacy group Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education.

“We [CPS] don’t like making these moves, but this is a budget of necessity,” said CPS spokesman David  Miranda.

Two of Austin’s welcoming schools – George Leland Elementary School and Edward K. Ellington Elementary – will see budget increases nearly doubling from last year, from $2.3 million to $5.3 million (Leland) and $3.6 million to $6.4 million (Ellington). And another welcoming school – Oscar DePriest Elementary School – will see its budget rise from $5.2 million to $6.3 million.

That’s because this is the first year CPS is using per pupil budgeting, and welcoming schools will to see an increase in students, said CPS spokesman Miranda.

Elementary schools get around $4,000 per student, according to budget documents.

Austin’s three welcoming schools are receiving students from now-closed Francis Scott Key Elementary, Horatio May Elementary Community Academy, Louis Armstrong Math & Science Elementary and Robert Emmet Elementary.

Districtwide, welcoming schools are supposed to see a $155 million investment, which includes air conditioning, libraries and iPads for all students, according to the CPS website.

The money for these projects comes from the capital budget, rather than the individual school budgets, said Miranda.

But Dwayne Truss, an organizer for Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education, said those upgrades don’t matter because Austin’s welcoming schools are still seeing cuts of up to $300,000 in support services, including libraries, lunchrooms, bus aides for special education students, reading support, attendance services and curriculum development.

CPS spokesman Miranda said while it may look like schools are losing funding for these services, the money is just being routed through the central office.

For example, welcoming schools will actually see an increase in security, he said.

The budget for the central office, which can be found on the CPS website (then select “central office”), is broken down by department rather than school, so exactly how much funding is going to individual schools can’t be easily tracked.

CPS officials said different funds come from different sources, and it’s not done to cause confusion, but they could not provide a further breakdown of central office funds.

“It’s double-speak. [CPS] creates confusion, and people have to do a ton of research to figure out what’s what,” said Truss.

David Stovall, an educational policies professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, agrees.

He used the word dubious to describe how CPS handles questions about the budget.

“[CPS] claims the funds are allocated, but it all seems to be up in the air. This hamster wheel stuff is indicative of a district in chaos,” said Stovall.

At the local level, many principals practice transparency with their individual budgets, he said.

“But there should be transparency across all levels, and it doesn’t seem to be that way – especially in the central office,” said Stovall.

He also takes issue with the per-student funding model, which is being used by CPS for the first time this year.

The per-student allotment won’t necessarily give the schools what they need because the resource demands for students with special needs are higher, he said.

Some advocacy groups, like the newly formed Common Sense: Coalition of LSCs for Fair Funding, want to see local school councils take more action in the budget process.

The chairman of James G. Blaine Elementary’s LSC urged all LSCs to vote against their budgets at the final CPS budget hearing held Aug. 2.

LSCs – made up of elected teachers, community members and students – are required to vote on their school’s budget, according to Illinois law.

But some LSCs are inactive or don’t have enough members present to make a quorum when the time comes to vote, according to the coalition.

At least three LSCs in Austin aren’t scheduled to meet in August until after the Chicago Board of Education votes Aug. 28.

But that date might not matter, said the group’sco-founder Kate Bolduc.

LSCs had their preliminary budgets in early June, even though they weren’t made public on the district’s website until the last week of July, said Bolduc.

The LSC she belongs to at Blaine Elementary on the North Side had to vote on its budget by midnight June 20, so it’s likely Austin schools held special meetings over the summer that wouldn’t be posted, she said.

Melinda Stapleton is a special education teacher and LSC member at Austin’s John Hay Community Academy School, which is losing around $250,000 this year.

Stapleton agreed with Bolduc’s assessment. Her LSC had to call a special meeting in June on one’s week’s notice to vote on the budget, she said.

“Our principal is proactive, so we were ready. But the hardest part was seeing this was all we had to work with,” said Stapleton.

The special education teacher, who’s starting her 24th year at the school, said this is one of the largest budget cuts she has seen.

“We had to decide if we were going to have books or staff, and it should never be a decision like that. It should be all about the kids,” said Stapleton.

All these things add up to make education policy expert Stovall worry about the bigger picture, because he said Chicago could set a precedent for other cities.

“These are signs of very troubling times moving forward in terms of what public education means in big cities,” he said.

You can see the budget for individual schools here by clicking on “find your school budget.”

School Name

FY 2013 Ending Budget

FY 2014 Proposed Budget

Budget Difference FY‘13-’14

Edward K. Ellington




Ella Flagg Young




George Leland Elementary School




George Rogers Clark Elementary School




Harriet E. Sayer Language Academy




Henry H. Nash




Herbert Spencer Math and Science Academy




John Hay Community Academy School




Joseph Lovett School




Milton Brunson Special Elementary




Oscar Depriest School




Ronald E. McNair Academic Center School





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