School budgets released to principals today by Chicago Public Schools maintain last year’s per-pupil funding levels but depend on $500 million in pension reform from Springfield that has yet to materialize.
Districtwide, enrollment projections for next year show a slight dip of 812 students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Neighborhood schools are expected to lose about 4,000 students while charter and contract schools are expected to gain about 2,700, according to a CPS fact sheet.
Due to enrollment declines, nearly two-thirds of schools will receive less money than they did last year. Overall, neighborhood schools will get about $60 million less, while charter and contract schools will gain about $31 million.
Twenty-eight schools appear to be losing $600,000 or more in funding over last year — roughly the same number that will gain at least $600,000 — according to a map released by CPS.
Unlike the previous two years, CPS will not hold schools harmless if fewer students enroll by the 20th day of school than the district had projected. That means they might face further funding cuts.
Earlier this month CPS announced it would close 1,400 positions. Today, officials said that absent pension reforms they are seeking in Springfield, more cuts and “unsustainable borrowing” could still be on the way. While an education spending bill was passed last month, the Legislature and Gov. Bruce Rauner have yet to agree on an overall state budget or whether to give any additional assistance to CPS, which must make a $700 million payment into its teacher pension fund next fiscal year.
“Much of the pain in this year’s budget is due to a broken pension system,” said interim CPS CEO Jesse Ruiz, who has been lobbying Springfield to help Chicago pay its pension obligations.
Ruiz said the potential additional cuts and borrowing would happen sometime after August if there is no relief from the state.
Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association, worries CPS won’t have much else to cut but teachers. Already, CPS has said it will allocate less money for teacher development programs and elementary school sports coaches, and is changing some high school start times to reduce transportation costs.
CPS has not released its full 2015-16 budget proposal, which must go to public hearings and be approved by the Board of Education before the end of August. What the district released today were individual school budgets. With these documents in hand, principals met with their network chiefs throughout the day at Westinghouse College Prep.
District officials said that at 3 p.m. they will release a spreadsheet comparing individual schools’ budgets from the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.
Uncertainty in budgets
Principals now have just a few weeks to decide how to allocate the money and get their own school budgets approved by their Local School Councils. “We usually go through this for about a week and then start putting people in positions,” says outspoken Blaine Elementary Principal Troy LaRaviere. “Sometimes there’s mistakes, and sometimes we have to call Central Office [to lobby for more money].”
Berry noted that with uncertainties in Springfield and in teacher contract talks, “basically it’s a check that a principal may not be able to cash. Whether this will be the real budget come September is anybody’s guess.”
Ruiz said the district and Chicago Teachers Union are “getting close” to reaching a contract agreement. The CTU’s labor contract expired last month.
LaRaviere said that with student-based budgeting, schools like Blaine are penalized for having veteran teachers with higher salaries, due to their years of experience. “If [the per-pupil funding] stays the same, we lose because the expenses are not the same,” he says. He added that with step and lane increases — due to an extra year of service and additional graduate credits — “that means the expense of the staff goes up by $100,000, $200,000, as it should.”
For the 2015 fiscal year, the district turned to an unusual and perilous accounting mechanism to balance the books — borrowing two months’ worth of local property tax revenue from the 2016 fiscal year. District officials did not say how much that accounting trick is now costing CPS for the upcoming year.
CPS is turning to a variety of options to try to increase revenue, including raising the property tax levy to the legal cap in order to generate an additional $61 million, according to the district’s calculations.
In addition, Chief Financial Officer Ginger Ostro said the district was able to obtain a waiver from the federal government to allow about $35 million in Title I dollars to be used toward school budgets, as opposed to supplemental education services such as after-school tutoring. She said the dollars will still follow low-income students to their schools, but “we no longer have to dedicate the full amount that used to be required for those services.”