This post is part of a series on the Chicago Public Schools budget crisis appearing today on ChicagoNow. The other posts can be found here.
Ever wonder what a million dollar budget cut might look like, say, for an actual school? For a CPS high school?
You may be hearing a lot of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth if you're anywhere near a Local School Council meeting this week. Schools were given their budgets last week and now must approve them through their Local School Councils.
Frankly, I think these folks are a bunch of whiners. They're not creative, they have no vision, they refuse to suspend disbelief.
CPS's new innovative school funding model, per-pupil-funding, is giving principals autonomy and independence to use their money as they wish--it just looks on paper like less. That's where the suspension of disbelief comes in. Just because it looks like less money doesn't mean it's bad. CPS spokesman Becky Carroll assures us three things, and I believe her: one, while some schools may lose money, many others will gain; two, cuts won't come anywhere near classrooms; three, they'll be minimal.
Regardless, we can all do more with less in these tough economic times, right? And my goodness, aren't teachers supposed to be smart and creative? Aren't principals supposed to be resourceful? Don't we pay them for something?
So surely they can deal with the glancing blow of a million bucks less in their school coffers for next year.
Here's how that might look at my son's school.
His school has been in the news a bit this week. Whitney Young Magnet High School's new budget is down a little over a million bucks for the coming year. After naming many potential cuts to programs--extraneous, unnecessary programs, I'm sure--the principal made a suggestion. She said students could pay $500 and get to go to their last class of the day.
That's the point that has caught the attention of major media this week. No one can believe it! Pay for a class in a public high school? How on earth can she even suggest such a thing?
Well, here's how. You may recall that one of Rahm's first education reforms for CPS was to create a longer school day. He called it "the full day." I'm sure you remember. You may have even sighed a sigh of desperate relief that our Chicago students, who had the shortest day in the nation, or maybe the world, or the universe, were finally getting an appropriate amount of time in the classroom. Finally. (Those lazy lazy union teachers were on easy street for way too long and children were being deprived of an education. Fortunately for us all, Rahm cares enough about the kids he oversees to give them a longer day and longer year than his own kids' school provides. He's a kind and generous man.)
Well anyway, Rahm pushed this long day through and then failed to fund it in any effective way. That last tuition-based class of the day? That's the amount of extra time in the "full" day. Whitney Young's budget sure can't pay for it. Someone needs to, and CPS certainly isn't. So why not parents?
That's the flashiest part of Whitney Young's proposed changes as a result of being down a million dollars.
But there are others, most of which are totally necessary if you ask me.
The budget forces the Writing Center to shut down. The Center is run by an English teacher, Brigid Pasulka, whose first novel, A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True, won the 2010 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. The Center exists to help students with their writing, seeing as the expectations at Whitney Young are high, and kids come from all over the city with various levels of composition skill and preparation. This one looks tough, but in reality it's no biggie. As we all know, because of the school shut downs and budget cuts, the level of all elementary schools will rise, and children, now all going to miraculously better elementary schools, will no longer need writing help in high school from an award-winning published author.
They will reduce the number of world languages offered. Currently the course catalog lists Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Latin, and American Sign Language. But isn't there room here to trim? Latin? Snore. It's a dead language for crying out loud--who needs it? And what about Italian--I mean, why? And haven't the Japanese already lost their world economic dominance? Japanese is so over.
They will eliminate 8.5 teaching positions, and in addition, not replace an art teacher who is retiring. Honestly, there's usually too many teachers just sitting around--like firefighters--so this will probably streamline and tighten everything up just as it should be.
Speaking of streamlining, they'll reduce the number of non-core classes such as, for example, business, art, music, and world language. Whatever. That art and music stuff is really mainly for private school kids. Even though there are, I mean were, some great music programs in CPS, what's the point anyway? These kids are being groomed for the world of work, an important point that recently retired Board of Ed member Penny Pritzker fought for.
Finally, the budget eliminates substitute teachers. I admit, this one seems a little tricky, but students should be mature enough to monitor and teach themselves on the off chance their teachers can't come to class. (And anyway, we really need to ask ourselves why on earth teachers might miss a day of school.)
If you ask me, things will look a lot better at Whitney Young after these so-called "devastating" cuts are implemented. We spend too damn much on children in this city, not to mention their lazy lazy union teachers. If things look this good at one of our city's top high schools after having the budget tightened up, how much better will schools like Taft, Curie, Lane Tech, and Kelly High be after implementing budgets that will be cut by 2, 3, and 4 million bucks?
If we close our eyes and suspend our disbelief, things look better all over.
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