CPS meeting with principals reveals dire financial state

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Chicago Public Schools are on the brink of disaster if they don?t get funding from Springfield, officials said, as leaders met with individual schools about budgets. (WLS)

Chicago Public Schools are on the brink of disaster if they don't get funding from Springfield, officials said, as CPS leaders met with individual schools about budgets.

As the CPS fiscal crisis worsens over 600 principals attended a meeting on the west side Monday where most of them heard their schools will have less money to spend during the next fiscal year.

After the meetings, principals rushed back to their schools to begin the much-delayed work planning the fall semester:

"We're going to be looking at having to cut programs, having to change direction, maybe even having to add more students in a classroom and we need time to think about that," says Principal Katherine Konopase.

CPS officials say they'll spend the same amount per student at each school. That means more money for 238 schools with projected enrollment increases, but fewer dollars at 416 buildings where enrollment is expected to decline.

"We're trying to keep cuts from the classroom door," says CPS CEO Jesse Ruiz. "We're not necessarily keeping them from the school door."

Ruiz, who spoke to the principals in person but only by phone to the media, said charter schools will get more money because they'll enroll more students.

"Public schools have a $60 million net reduction and the charter schools have a 20-something net increase in their budgets," Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey says.

"We're spending the same money on students regardless of where they choose to go to school," Ruiz says.

The budgets given to principals also presume that during the next fiscal year, the state will provide CPS with $500 million in pension debt relief. But if that money doesn't come through, the district concedes more cuts will be necessary at the school level by the spring semester.

"We know that if the principals have their budgets cut, we know that the only thing they can do is cut staff," Sharkey says.

Katherine Konopasek says the enrollment at her southwest side Stevenson Elementary School is rising, so she doesn't expect to lose any teachers. But she says other principals at the meeting did not appear as fortunate.

"I saw other principals who were sort of choking up and they're noticing they may have to have losses," she says.

Sharkey estimated as many as 400-500 teacher positions will be lost in the fiscal crisis now because of declining enrollment, and perhaps more if the district does not get increased state aid.

The new elementary school budgets do not include money for after school sports programs.
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