Local school news

An effort to oppose budget cuts imposed on local schools by officials with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is gaining support in the local community.

A letter-writing campaign was one of the actions agreed upon at a meeting held at Kellogg Elementary School on July 1. Approximately 60 people were in attendance at the meeting, including Beverly resident Sue McLaughlin, who serves on Kellogg’s Local School Council (LSC) as a community member and is spearheading the letter-writing initiative.

McLaughlin is collecting letters from residents opposing the school budgets recently proposed by the Chicago Board of Education (CBOE) that, in some cases, are drastically reduced from years past. The letters will be copied and sent to a number of public officials, McLaughlin said, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CBOE President David Vitale, Gov. Pat Quinn, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) and CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett. State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th), state Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th) and 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea will also receive copies of the letters, McLaughlin said.

According to McLaughlin, the proposed budget presented to Kellogg School is approximately $365,000 less than last year’s budget. The cuts in funding will cause Kellogg to lose one special-education teaching position and 2.5 general-education teaching positions, which will leave one homeroom class without a teacher, McLaughlin said.

The cuts will also affect funding for several parent workers who are needed to staff classrooms and recess periods due to the longer school day, McLaughlin said, as well as funding for supplies, after-school classes, upgrades to textbooks, technology and periodicals.

The Kellogg LSC has rejected the budget proposal, McLaughlin said, and is hoping that political pressure placed on city and school officials will result in restored funding for the school.

Kellogg is not alone in its budget woes.

Morgan Park High School (MPHS) and Sutherland and Cassell elementary schools were also hit hard, according to information provided by 19th Ward Parents, a grassroots group that was organized to fight the longer school day.

Courtney Sinisi, a member of the 19th Ward Parents and Cassell’s LSC, said the proposed budget at Cassell is $500,000 less than last year.

“When I heard the numbers, it was like a kick in the face,” Sinisi said. “We were anticipating cuts, but never in a million years did I think it would be so extreme.”

As a result of the reduced budget, Sinisi said, administrators at Cassell, which is a fine arts magnet school, will be forced to make cuts to the school’s art, music and drama departments. The school will also lose four teaching positions, exacerbating its long-running problem of overcrowded classrooms. Given the number of students currently registered for the 2013-2014 school year, administrators project 41 students in the first-grade classroom, 42 students in the second-grade classroom, 42 students in the third-grade classroom, 38 students in the fourth-grade classroom and 41 students in the fifth-grade classroom next year.

The Cassell LSC accepted the proposed budget at its last meeting, Sinisi said, but only because it feared retaliatory measures from the CBOE if it was not accepted.

“We included a letter of opposition,” Sinisi said, “but we didn’t reject it based on the fear that the board could take away further funding or take over the LSC.”

Mt. Greenwood resident Ann Higgins said she is angry over the cuts that will affect the special-education program that her 10-year-old son is enrolled in at Christopher Elementary School, 5042 S. Artesian Ave.

“We found out [about the budget cuts] after the kids got out of school,” she said. “The principal sent home a note saying she may have to cut the program by 75 percent.”

Higgins is worried, she said, that classroom size for special-education students may double in size under the new budget, creating hardship for her son and others who “already have to struggle to stay where they’re at academically.”

“It will be harder for everyone,” she said. “They’re looking at numbers, not at the kids.”

Peggy Goddard, a community representative on the MPHS LSC, said she, too, is distraught over the proposed budget cuts to both the regular education and special-education programs at MPHS. The 2013-2014 budget is $1.3 million less than last year’s budget, Goddard said, which will result in the loss of 17 teaching positions and seven support staff positions, including three special-education teachers and three special-education aides.

“It is horrible what the CPS is doing to schools,” Goddard said. “If they don’t close you, they are starving you to death.”

A meeting to “galvanize, organize and put political pressure on the CPS, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Mayor Emanuel and his appointed school board,” organized by the 19th Ward Parents group and the Beverly Improvement Association, was held at Christ the King Elementary School after press time on July 8.