Union: Error calls CPS budget into question

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The Chicago Teachers Union has discovered a significant discrepancy with the budget information released by the Chicago Public Schools, but CPS officials are calling it a technical glitch that doesn’t change the fact that schools have big budget woes. 

The Chicago Teachers Union has discovered a significant discrepancy with the budget information released by the Chicago Public Schools, but CPS officials are calling it a technical glitch that doesn’t change the fact that schools have big budget woes. 
“Our IT department is working to correct it and as soon as it is done, we will post the updated information on our website,” said Ginger Ostro, the budget and grants director.  “We apologize for the error.”
The findings were presented by CTU consultant and retired teacher delegate George Schmidt at a workshop Tuesday evening that aimed to prepare teachers to testify at three hearings on the budget, which will take place at schools around the city on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings.
The CTU has good reason to scrutinize CPS’ budget this year. In June, the board of education voted to rescind the raises promised to unionized staff, including teachers, in their contract. Facing a $712 million hole, the board said it had no money to fund the raises. To balance the budget, CPS also plans to collect an additional $150 million in property taxes by taxing to the cap.
Former John Hope High School economics and history teacher Kurt Hilgendorf, who co-presented the workshop with Schmidt, noted that actual expenditures and revenue have differed greatly from their projected amounts in past years and questioned the district’s estimate of the cost of teacher raises. District officials say the teacher raises would cost $80 million; while raises for other unionized staff would cost $20 million.
“They are projections. They may be rooted in reality; they may not be rooted in reality,” he said. 
The budget discrepancy noted by Schmidt will likely add fuel to conflict between the CTU and CPS. Catalyst confirmed the problem outlined by Schmidt. It is with the school segment reports, which accompany the CPS budget and details the revenues and expenses for each school. Each school’s enrollment projection was doubled, making the student population twice as large as it should be. 
For instance, at Curie Metropolitan High School, which had around 3,500 students last year, the segment report indicates a projected enrollment of more than 6,900.
Because teachers are allocated based on school enrollment, finding the error immediately set off an alarm for many teachers.
“There’s not the level of accuracy there should be, in one of the most important documents the district releases,” Hilgendorf said. 
School budgets in the segment reports also seem to be inflated, and both the enrollment figure and the budgeted amount are different than what is in the official proposed budget book. The official budget book seems more in line with what each school’s actual budget might be.
At the workshop Tuesday afternoon, Schmidt, who publishes Substance, a publication that regularly lamblasts the CPS administration, asked teachers how a deficit is created. “You either overestimate expenses, or underestimate income,” he said, and accused CPS of deliberately creating projected deficits for decades.
Many teachers at the workshop said the budget discrepancy only added to their confusion, and accused the district of a lack of transparency.
While teachers at the workshop were trying to get a grasp on the budget, CTU leaders were honing their message about it. CTU leaders released a statement on Tuesday saying CPS does not have to be so broke. CPS and the city would have money if it did not set aside millions of dollars in property taxes aside for developers through tax increment finance districts, according to the statement. 
CTU leaders also criticized CPS administrators for deciding to hand over $70 million to the Chicago Police Department. CPS officials say they owed CPD the cash for work done by police officers over the past few years. The CTU statement said that CPS was not obligated to pay the bill. 
That money could be better used for CPS programs, according to the CTU. In addition to refusing to pay the raises, administrators said they were going to make $87 million in programmatic cuts.
“A depleted school system cannot provide the high-quality education our children deserve,” said CTU president Karen Lewis in the statement.
CPS officials shot back that they tried their best to keep cuts far away from classrooms. They also said that nearly two-thirds of teachers will see an increase in their pay checks due to increases given for educational attainment and experience. 
CPS also launched an interactive website where the public could provide their ideas on the budget.