Although the budget cuts to neighborhood schools rocked Chicago’s education system last spring, five weeks into the new school year, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are still adjusting to operating with less funding. Parents and local schools aren’t sitting still with the CPS budget cuts.
Effects of Budget Cuts
The grassroots coalition Raise Your Hand (RYH, @ILRaiseYourHand) advocates for improvements to Illinois public education by sharing data and information on policies with parents and community members.
RYH began collecting data on the budget cuts from local school councils (LSC) before they were officially announced by CPS. RYH continues to ask important questions and serve as a hub for news and information surrounding CPS data.
The majority of CPS schools in Logan Square have faced severe budget cuts, and despite the mayor’s recent announcements to build new schools, expand an existing charter school and supply schools with new playgrounds, many neighborhood schools are still feeling the blows of CPS’s recent budget cuts.
Although it may be difficult for residents to picture what millions of dollars in budget cuts look like, the picture becomes realistic when you hear what schools have lost. For instance, Darwin Elementary School‘s (3116 W. Belden Ave.) arts, world language, math and science programs have made gains over the past few years, but being characterized as underutilized has led to cuts larger than many other schools in the neighborhood.
School Supporters Working Together
Darwin was initially on the school closure list, but was removed before the final list was presented to the City Council. Darwin parent Jennie Dye applauds Logan Square school supporters’ ability to work together and with community organizations to mobilize and fight back against school closures and budget cuts.
“We had the opportunity to unite with Brentano and Goethe,” Dye says. “And Darwin participates in the parent mentor program with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. Out of the whole Brentano saga, I think the three schools had the opportunity to build friendships with other schools.”
Brentano Elementary School lost a librarian, an office clerk and a teacher’s aide. The school employed an art teacher and a music teacher before the cuts, but Brentano now has one fine arts teacher who teaches both.
Despite the many pitfalls schools have faced in wake of the budget cuts, parents and LSC members press on in advocating for quality education and sufficient funding for CPS students.
“Our parents and community members are working on grants and fundraisers to supplement our school’s programming back to what we consider an appropriate level,” says Chris Hewitt of Brentano. “We’re working on Bingo Nights to start in November, and the kids at the school will be selling cookie dough for the holidays.”
At Goethe Elementary School, there are more than 30 students in two of the sixth-grade classes. The school lost positions and seen a decrease in the number of preschool students.
Through innovative techniques and community involvement, parents and LSCs worked to ensure education is not sacrificed. They have networked with aldermen and local officials to advocate for the schools.
“We are fortunate to be in an engaged community with very supportive elected officials. Both Alderman Waguespack and Alderman Colon have been very supportive of the school and continue to be so, but they don’t have control over CPS. Dozens of Logan Square residents have spoken out and sent letters to Mayor Emanuel about the cuts,” says Hewitt. “None of it seems to make a difference—the Mayor doesn’t seem to be listening.”
Alderman Scott Waguespack is a member of Chicago’s original Progressive Caucus. The caucus has made multiple pushes toward an elected school board for CPS and the use of surplus TIF money to fund CPS schools.
“The Elected School board is an important issue as well for us. We believe that Rahm’s policies are detrimental to all public schools and the budget cuts prove it,” says Waguespack. “We feel that an elected school board is the only option other than a new mayor that changes mayoral policies to support neighborhood schools.”