CPS approves budget amid community protests

$5.7 billion measure OK’d, residents accuse district of inequity

By TERRY DEAN

Chicago Public Schools officials say they’re running out of money, largely due to the state not meeting its financial obligations to the district, but angry parents are calling that an excuse, arguing that CPS is to blame for their money problems.
People upset with this year’s roughly $5.7 billion proposed budget, which includes $200 million in cuts, gave officials an earful at Wednesday morning’s Chicago Board of Education meeting. Many called the district unfair for failing to properly fund poorer neighborhood schools while allocating money to build new charter schools. They also expressed outrage over more than $40 million in cuts to special ed programs.

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CPS officials, meanwhile, placed much of the blame at the state for failing short on on nearly $500 million in state aid due the district.
The board approved the budget Wednesday afternoon and also OK’d the sale of more than a $1 billion in bonds. CPS also penciled in the $480 million in expected state aid into the budget though that money hasn’t been received yet. The morning board meeting saw one parent who’s been on a two-week hunger strike over her school’s closing this year taken to the hospital after speaking.
“You all do not respect black and brown parents,” said Jeanette Taylor-Ramann, a parent at Dyett High School on the South Side, to the board. “I should not be hungry in 2015 over a neighborhood high school that is supposed to belong to the community.”
She collapsed just before noon and was taken to Northwestern University Hospital by ambulance. Paramedics arrived around 10-15 minutes after being called. Jadine Chou, CPS’s chief of Safety and Security, said there were no on-site paramedics for the meeting. She said the ambulance was likely held up due to construction work occurring downtown and outside CPS headquarters at 42 W. Madison. Chou said she didn’t know if it actually took that long for the ambulance to arrive.
Taylor-Ramann is among 12 Dyett supporters on hunger strike.
CPS closed the Bronzeville school in June but is considering re-opening it as a privately-run school institution. Dyett supporters instead want it to remain a public school focused on technology.
CPS this summer also announced budget cuts for 2015 totaling $200 million. CPS said it will also take a $700 million pension hit this year, on top of the more than $1 billion in pension costs in the two previous years.
The district will also have to borrow money to stay cash-flow positive, CPS officials said.
“This is much like in your personal lives if you begin to have revenue shortfalls, you just don’t have enough income coming in, you start living off your credit cards,” said school board President Frank Clark. “You can do it short-term but sooner or later those credit cards max out.”

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Dozens of protesters marched outside CPS headquarters before the meeting, and dozens of speakers signed up to speak during public comments, which lasted nearly two hours.
Nia Abdullah, principal of Bowen High School on the South Side, said CPS can do better job in spending money on schools that really need it.
“I understand that they don’t have the money for a lot of things, but I also understand that they are inequitably allocating what they do have to folks who might not need it as much,” Abdullah said. Bria Briarandle, a senior at Bowen, said her school needs more funding.
“We don’t get to have as many opportunities as we had last year,” said the 16-year-old, who was able to visit Historical Black Colleges last year as part of a school trip. “I had never done that before.”