Chicago schools to release new budget, with details on closing $712 million deficit

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On Friday afternoon, Chicago Public Schools officials will
finally reveal to the public how they plan to deal with a projected $712
million deficit.

On Friday afternoon, Chicago Public Schools officials will
finally reveal to the public how they plan to deal with a projected $712
million deficit.

The budget is set to be available at 3 p.m., according to
CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll. It will be posted online, and five paper copies
will be available at district headquarters. Hearings on the budget will begin
at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10 at Lane Tech High School and will continue on
Thursday, Aug. 11 at Westinghouse High and on Friday, Aug. 12 at Simeon High.

The budget will then be presented for board approval at the
Aug. 24 meeting.

It is not uncommon for the official proposed budget to be
released in August. What makes this year unusual is that the budget deficit is
huge, and it would be difficult for CPS officials to impose mass teacher
layoffs at this point, considering that a substantial percentage of the schools,
now on a Track E year-round schedule, will open their doors on Monday.

The $712 million deficit still remains even after the board
decided that it wouldn’t fund contractually-promised raises for unionized
staff, including teachers, and announced $75 million in savings from a variety
of moves that include delaying capital projects and turning off lights in
half-empty buildings.

CPS officials are reportedly thinking about increasing the
amount they collect in property taxes to the maximum allowed under state law.
That would bring in another $100 million. They could be looking to Mayor Rahm
Emanuel to provide some money from tax increment financing districts, or
planning on refinancing some bonds as they did last year.

Nowhere to cut?

But if they don’t find extra money and need to cut, it is
unclear where they will turn. Emanuel and CEO Jean-Claude Brizard have said
more about what they plan on maintaining than what they plan to ax. They have
said that they will maintain current class size levels, continue and even
increase the amount spent on preschool and full-day kindergarten, continue
paying for magnet and world language positions and keep funding intact for
key components of Culture of Calm, the safety program that provides mentors for students and pays
community members to escort students to school.

Brizard also has told principals and other non-unionized
staff that they no longer will be required to take furlough days, but that they
won’t get raises either.

Nearly 70 percent of CPS’ $5.2 billion operating budget is
spent in schools, mostly on teacher salaries. It has already been announced
that schools will experience some cuts in personnel, but most of them are due
to decreases in enrollment. The union says 976 teachers have been laid off this
year and 300 support staff.

Outside of schools, CPS could also fill some of the holes by
laying off citywide staff and administrators in central office.  During last year’s budget process, the number
of staff in central office was reduced by 380 and citywide services, which
includes special education services among other things, by nearly 700 people.

Brizard announced a reorganization of central office that
offers some clues to where he could find small pockets of money. The number of
area offices, now called school networks, will be reduced from 24 to 19. Last
year, the district spent an average of $1.1 million on each office. CPS
officials have also indicated that the role of the office will shift from
support to coordination so they might have fewer staff in each office.

Under this new structure, some departments such as
“Graduation Pathways” might disappear. There also are some rumblings about CPS
doing away with reading specialists, who are part of the citywide staff and
last year cost about $1.1 million.