Budgets given to principals, Chicago Public Schools tap ‘reserves’

By: Sarah Karp / June 05, 2013

Last summer in the midst of teacher contract negotiations and as they prepared to undertake massive school closings, CPS leaders said they were using one-time reserves to fill a budget deficit and were completely out of money.

But on Wednesday, district officials said they will once again use one-time reserves to fill a budget deficit projected to be close to $1 billion. District officials made this announcement as they were releasing school budgets to principals.

CPS is facing a substantial budget deficit because it must contribute $612 million to pension funds, a $400 million increase from last year. Officials were hoping to spread those payments over a longer period of time, but last week state legislators didn’t approve a bill that would have given the district a pension holiday.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said that the new reserves will be created by the county making property tax payments on time again this year. Carroll said the district also might garner some savings from the state keeping current with payments.

However, identifying the county payments as extra money is a direct contradiction to earlier statements. The annual audit, released in January, showed a fund balance of $329 million—a fact critics immediately jumped on accusing CPS of being dishonest by crying poverty and then ending up with money in the bank.

At the time, CPS officials said last year’s one-time county property tax payment was not extra money, but had just been received earlier than expected and was already allocated. Carroll said the reason this year’s on time payments are considered reserves has to do with timing.

“We now expect to get the next round of county dollars by the end of FY13 – since we did not plan for those dollars in our FY13 budget as passed by the Board, they will be counted as reserves. Next year, they will actually be counted in that budget,” she said.

These new reserves are unlikely to make up the entire shortfall faced by the district. This predicament had principals nervous about their school budgets as they waited an unusually long time to receive them. School budgets are usually released in April or May so that principals can get a handle on how many teachers they can hire or how many they must lay off.

In announcing that principals were finally getting their budgets, CPS officials said they were doing their best to prevent students from feeling the impact of budget problems.

“The District is continuing to identify reductions in central office, operations and administrative spending in order to keep cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” according to a press release.

But getting a handle on whether schools will feel the impact of the district’s deficit in their budgets is difficult. For the first time this year, CPS moved to per-student funding, rather than giving schools money for positions, which was done historically.

CPS officials say they are doing this to give principals more autonomy over their budgets. However, some worry that it is a way to cut school budgets without having to explicitly reduce the number of teachers and raise class sizes. Also, it could incentivize laying off veteran, more expensive teachers and replacing them with less expensive ones.

Principals were summoned to late afternoon meetings Wednesday to receive their budgets so they have yet to report whether they will be getting more or less this year than last year. Carroll said she does not yet have any overall information on how many schools saw increase and decreases in their overall budget.

Carroll said schools are getting $4,429 for every kindergarten through third grader and $4,140 for every four every fourth through eighth grader. High schools are getting $5,029 for each student. Schools will still get the additional money for low-income, special education and bilingual students based on the complicated formula that has always been used.

Up until last year, CPS ran a per pupil budgeting pilot program. At the time, the per-pupil rate was based on the student population of the school. Schools with less than 300 students got $6,969 per pupil, whereas those with between 451 and 900 students got $5,077. The per student rates this year are similar to the old rates for larger schools.


Press Release: CPS Fails To Negotiate Fair Contract To Prevent First Strike In 25 Years

Ed07-CTU Stands Strong Rally-CTU Sea of Red ma...

Ed07-CTU Stands Strong Rally-CTU Sea of Red marching through loop to meet Stand Up Chicago Rally (Photo credit: sierraromeo [sarah-ji])

from Chicago Teachers Union

More than 29,000 teachers and education professionals will not report to work today 9/10

CHICAGO— After hours of intense negotiations, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent the first teachers strike in 25 years. Pickets are expected to begin Monday at 675 schools and the Board of Education as early as 6:30 a.m. Teachers, paraprofessionals and school clinicians have been without a labor agreement since June of this year.

Union leaders expressed disappointment in the District’s refusal to concede on issues involving compensation, job security and resources for their students. CTU President Karen Lewis said, “Negotiations have been intense but productive, however we have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike. This is a difficult decision and one we hoped we could avoid. Throughout these negotiations have I remained hopeful but determined. We must do things differently in this city if we are to provide our students with the education they so rightfully deserve.

“Talks have been productive in many areas. We have successfully won concessions for nursing mothers and have put more than 500 of our members back to work. We have restored some of the art, music, world language, technology and physical education classes to many of our students. The Board also agreed that we will now have textbooks on the first day of school rather than have our students and teachers wait up to six weeks before receiving instructional materials.

“Recognizing the Board’s fiscal woes, we are not far apart on compensation. However, we are apart on benefits. We want to maintain the existing health benefits.

“Another concern is evaluation procedures. After the initial phase-in of the new evaluation system it could result in 6,000 teachers (or nearly 30 percent of our members) being discharged within one or two years. This is unacceptable. We are also concerned that too much of the new evaluations will be based on students’ standardized test scores. This is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator. Further there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger and other social issues beyond our control.

“We want job security. Despite a new curriculum and new, stringent evaluation system, CPS proposes no increase (or even decreases) in teacher training. This is notable because our Union through our Quest Center is at the forefront teacher professional development in Illinois. We have been lauded by the District and our colleagues across the country for our extensive teacher training programs that helped emerging teachers strengthen their craft and increased the number of nationally board certified educators.

“We are demanding a reasonable timetable for the installation of air-conditioning in student classrooms–a sweltering, 98-degree classroom is not a productive learning environment for children. This type of environment is unacceptable for our members and all school personnel. A lack of climate control is unacceptable to our parents.

“As we continue to bargain in good faith, we stand in solidarity with parents, clergy and community-based organizations who are advocating for smaller class sizes, a better school day and an elected school board. Class size matters. It matters to parents. In the third largest school district in Illinois there are only 350 social workers—putting their caseloads at nearly 1,000 students each. We join them in their call for more social workers, counselors, audio/visual and hearing technicians and school nurses. Our children are exposed to unprecedented levels of neighborhood violence and other social issues, so the fight for wraparound services is critically important to all of us. Our members will continue to support this ground swell of parent activism and grassroots engagement on these issues. And we hope the Board will not shut these voices out.

“While new Illinois law prohibits us from striking over the recall of laid-off teachers and compensation for a longer school year, we do not intend to sign an agreement until these matters are addressed.

“Again, we are committed to staying at the table until a contract is place. However, in the morning no CTU member will be inside our schools. We will walk the picket lines. We will talk to parents. We will talk to clergy. We will talk to the community. We will talk to anyone who will listen—we demand a fair contract today, we demand a fair contract now. And, until there is one in place that our members accept, we will on the line.

“We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters throughout the state and country who are currently bargaining for their own fair contracts. We stand with those who have already declared they too are prepared to strike, in the best interests of their students.”

“This announcement is made now so our parents and community are empowered with this knowledge and will know that schools will not open on tomorrow. Please seek alternative care for your children. And, we ask all of you to join us in our education justice fight—for a fair contract—and call on the mayor and CEO Brizard to settle this matter now. Thank you.”


The union is not on strike over matters governed exclusively by IELRA Section 4.5 and 12(b).

The Chicago Teachers Union represents 30,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in the Chicago Public Schools, and by extension, the more than 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third largest teachers local in the United States and the largest local union in Illinois. For more information please visit CTU’s website at http://www.ctunet.com .

Longer School Day Brings Promise and Questions

Published: January 12, 2012
Chicago News Cooperative

Twenty hands shot into the air after Ashley Tam asked a question of her third graders during a math lesson on Tuesday morning. One boy threw his arm up with such force that his desk jumped off the ground with him.

It was the first week of the much-anticipated longer school day, as well as the second day back from winter break at Genevieve Melody Elementary School, not a time when one would expect a high level of student enthusiasm.

“I think the kids have adapted faster than we have,” said Tiffany Tillman, the assistant principal at Melody. The principal, Nancy Hanks, agreed, saying she had picked the wrong week to try to kick her coffee habit.

Melody is one of 13 Chicago public schools at which teachers voted to waive portions of their union contract and lengthen the school day to seven-and-a-half hours. In exchange, those teachers receive a stipend of roughly $800 to $1,200 and schools receive $75,000 to $150,000 each in discretionary funds.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s push for a longer school day has been criticized by the Chicago Teachers Union, which accused school officials of unlawfully coercing and bribing teachers at individual schools in an attempt to “make the union irrelevant.”

At Melody, 16 teachers voted for the longer day, with 4 against it, but teachers and administrators say they are less concerned with the politics than in making a longer day work.

“It’s a bigger deal to everybody else than everybody over here at Melody,” Ms. Hanks said. “At the end of the day, we have to be here together. You just don’t need that kind of tension coming to work.”

Melody and the 12 other “pioneer schools” that are starting longer days this year are being closely watched because next year all of Chicago’s public schools will move to a seven-and-a-half-hour day — making Chicago the first major city in recent years to add substantial school time district-wide. The longer day includes 90 minutes of additional instructional time and more time for breaks.

A sweeping education-reform law passed last year gives school district administrators the power to unilaterally lengthen the school day and year, but the details will have to be resolved in bargaining with the teachers’ union. How well the longer day works at Melody and the other schools will influence their decisions, officials said.

While most parents, teachers and administrators support lengthening the current 5 hour and 45 minute school day, many questions remain: What will schools do with the additional time? Will teachers be compensated? Can young children handle the longer school day? How can the district, already financially stretched, afford to add instruction?

In many ways, Melody is a microcosm of the city’s system — failing by most accounts, but pushing aggressively to improve. The school, on the West Side, has been on probation for five years, falls 500 students below optimum enrollment standards and, according to federal guidelines, has been failing for years. But with an ambitious, Harvard-educated principal and a sizable experienced staff, the school is registering promising growth.

“Last year, we made good movement for the first time in 10 years and we’re hoping to move more,” said Tyrone Covington, who has been a physical education teacher at Melody for 20 years. “We have no other way to go but up.”

Although the extra time was spent differently according to grade, all Melody classes added instruction in math and reading. In Ms. Tam’s class, the longer day also meant more time for science and social studies.

But she said her students were tired by the end of the day on Monday. “It’s a long day for 8-year-olds,” she said. “They’re adjusting well, but by 3 they wanted to nap.”

Some parents on the North Side, where the public schools are performing better, have raised concerns in meetings and surveys that the seven-and-a-half-hour day may be too long for their children and could cut into extracurricular activities.

Ms. Hanks said she understands, but added, “I need my kids to be able to read. Can you give a little bit of your piano time so that my kids over here on this side of the city can learn how to read?”

What works at Melody may not work at another school, Ms. Hanks said. The district announced on Wednesday that 30 schools with the most innovative plans for using the extra time next year will be awarded $100,000 each. All schools have been asked to devise a new schedule and submit it by the end of February. Officials say the best ideas may be applied across the district.

For Ms. Hanks, the main concern is not the final details worked out by the city and the teachers’ union, but rather the adjustment that teachers and parents will have to make to the stark change in their daily routine.

“You can pay attention to the nuts and the bolts of the schedule all you want, but if you don’t mentally prepare and take the adults through the transition, it’s not going to be successful,” Ms. Hanks said.