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School Budget Release Causes Confusion



    Clarice Berry, the president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, explains the confusion over the release of the new school budgets. (Published Friday, June 3, 2011)

    Chicago schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard may not be fully to blame, but one of his first big tasks -- releasing school budgets -- is a bungled mess, the president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association said Friday.

    "Certainly if this was the very first implication of how I'm going to work and how my team is going to work, I certainly would have sat down and made sure that this ran smoothly," said Clarice Berry.

    Some principals went online Friday and found that their school budgets had been slashed drastically while other schools had their budgets remain steady.  Other principals are getting their budgets hand-delivered to them while still others are unable to find their budgets at all.

    The delays mean principals have little time to plan for summer orientation and next year's academics.

    Brizard, Emanuel Talk CPS Budget Cuts

    [CHI] CPS Cutting $75M From Budget
    Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard says he tried to keep every possible dollar in the classroom. Mayor Rahm Emanuel puts part of the blame on the CPS budget deficit on the state's inability to pay its bills.
    (Published Thursday, June 2, 2011)

    Berry said she doesn't know why one school had its budget cut by $600,000 while another's was unchanged.

    "What are the cuts based on?" she asked. "It's such an important part of the school's year: planning for next year, teachers staying, teachers not staying, how many classrooms [they have]."

    While Brizard has been on the job only a few weeks as the school superintendent, giving out preliminary budget information was postponed until Emanuel's team was in place.  Brizard replaced Terry Mazany, who fulfilled the position for just a few months.  Rob Huberman resigned from the post last November.

    "There are some things that there is some elasticity in how you do it, but when you're talking about budgets and the last, literally the last days of school, people have to know... This is pretty important."

    Becky Carroll, a spokeswoman for CPS, said it's important to keep in mind that "these are only school-based budgets, not the entire CPS budget.  That comes in August."

    On Thursday, Emanuel and Brizard announced that $75 million was being slashed from the district's budget.

    And while Brizard said they were designed to keep the cuts "out of the classroom," students will likely feel the affects in the hallways and in their commutes.

    The $75 million in savings breaks down like this:

    • $44 million: scaling back capital improvement projects
    • $7.3 million: Using custodial services to clean only the portions of buildings that are used
    • $5 million: reducing school bus fleet, making some rides for students five to 10 minutes longer
    • $17.2 million: central office cuts, including 20 layoffs and elimination of 40 positions

    CPS said it hopes to save even more on buses by renegotiating service contracts.

    "We're not stopping here," said Brizard. "We continue to look for better ways to get things done."

    Emanuel laid part of the blame for the tight budget squarely on Springfield, which owes the district about $267 million.

    He used the tough decisions being made at the district level as an example to the state and to the Chicago Teachers Union, that they also need to do their part.

    "Your hand is strengthened... by telling the state, 'We are making the tough decisions and the smart decisions.' When we go in and advocate, 'We need you to pay your bills,' they don’t just think it’s going into some big black hole in the bureaucracy," he said.

    But CTU president Karen Lewis said the savings just offset the $77 million the state recently cut from CPS' budget.

    'The fact that there is $75 million in achievable savings in administration and bureaucracy underscores the need for more transparency about CPS spending," she said.  "The citizens of Chicago need to see every line of school spending -- how much is spent, on what and to whom."