This spring, state law established the Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees and directed it to assume control of the Chicago public school system. The new board was to expand on the educational progress made since the Chicago School Reform Act of 1988 and bring fiscal stability to the district.
To that end, the first, and perhaps most important, challenge was to develop a budget that not only allowed schools to open on time in September, but also addressed the district’s structural imbalance between revenues and expenditures. The seemingly annual budget crises of the school system resulted from the district having long-term expenditure commitments that exceeded its long-term revenue sources.
Since 1990, deficits resulting from this imbalance were papered over with fund transfers and the use of one-time revenues, enabling schools to open in the fall but also condemning the district to year-to-year subsistence, with the budget hole reappearing at the end of each fiscal year. That approach emphasized the short term over the long term, often aggravating the long-term financial picture for the district. This board has brought new thinking.