As stimulus money runs out, CPS tries to salvage Culture of Calm

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When former CPS CEO Ron Huberman launched Culture of Calm—his expansive
experiment to reduce youth violence through intensive mentoring and
in-school programs—he decided to pay for the $40 million-plus initiative
with federal stimulus money, knowing that they were short-term funds
that would one day disappear.

When former CPS CEO Ron Huberman launched Culture of Calm—his expansive experiment to reduce youth violence through intensive mentoring and in-school programs—he decided to pay for the $40 million-plus initiative with federal stimulus money, knowing that they were short-term funds that would one day disappear.

That day has arrived. Now Culture of Calm programs and all else funded with federal stimulus money are contributing to the district’s deficit. Of the projected $720 million deficit, the loss of federal stimulus money, including EdJobs money, accounts for some $550 million.

New CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and his administration say they are trying to keep Culture of Calm intact, making the case that schools receiving the extra money experienced an increase in attendance and a decrease in serious misconducts. But exactly how much the new administration is willing to spend on these programs is unclear.

“When you talk to the students, it is clear that we are making headway,” Brizard said on Thursday after meeting with students at Manley High School on the West Side.

Culture of Calm initially included many components. The most innovative was to provide personal advocates and mentoring for teenagers who had been pinpointed, via statistical analysis, as most likely to be shooting victims. The initiative also provided money for coordinators and counselors, and for community organizations to hire adults to supervise students as they walked home through rough neighborhoods.  

But now, Brizard and his staff say they only consider the school-based portion of the program as Culture of Calm. Under the initiative, 32 schools were given coordinators; six schools, including Manley, were given more than $1 million for a bevy of programs, including counselors and staff for restorative justice programs.

Brizard announced that he was keeping all these positions intact.

However, school principals are reporting that the school-level budgets received Friday included significant overall reductions and, given that they are generally allowed to juggle money, some may choose to cut Culture of Calm staff.

Manley Principal James Walton said he is still digesting his budget. Manley’s Culture of Calm money is used for a team of counselors to reach out to troubled students, staff to man a “peace room” where students can talk out conflicts, and staff to develop restorative justice.

“I am still figuring out how to make it work,” Walton said.

Meanwhile, CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll says the mentoring and advocate programs provided through not-for-profits, as well as the Safe Passage programs, are no longer considered Culture of Calm. They are now merely violence-prevention programs.

Brizard said students will still get services, but he wants organizations to take on more students for less. He pointed out that the Philadelphia-based Youth Advocacy Program was hired to provide personal advocates to be on-call 24-hours a day for the most vulnerable students.

Brizard declined to say how much he was willing to spend on YAP and mentor programs, which last year received about $17 million. 

According to Youth Advocacy, its program has served about 600 students so far, at a cost of about $15,000 per student. The program received a $10 million, two-year contract that is slated to end in the next several months.

Brizard also said he was going to look for other ways to provide mentors at a lower cost. For example, he wants to see if the 40,000 employees who work for CPS can take on some of the mentoring roles or if the black clergy would provide mentors.

This message has left some of the contractors confused. Ted Christians, executive director of Umoja, a student development organization that works in Manley, said he was told not to plan on his Culture of Calm grant coming through again. Umoja has been at Manley for almost 15 years and Christians said he is constantly raising money to fill in for lost grants.

Students also have heard that the mentoring programs might be in danger. At Brizard’s sit-down with students, two of the boys said they heard the Becoming A Man program might not be around next year. Becoming A Man provides mentors to students at several schools. That would be devastating to 17-year-old LeCari Hunter.

Hunter quietly told Brizard that he looks to the staff at BAM to give him guidance. “I don’t have a father around,” Hunter said. “They are like a real older brother.”