Monday, June 11, 2012

Listening Tour, Part 3

This is old news in the world of Chicago education politics, but I wanted to finish the series for those who have been following along at home. I became intensely interested in CPS goings-on because of the funding piece and I would be remiss if I didn't mention money in my "reporting" of my meeting with Brizard.

Certainly, funding remains an issue within CPS. Everyone acknowledges this.

But in not sure the blame lies entirely on the shoulders of CPS Central fiscal mismanagement. In my opinion, funding remains an issue due to
1) TIF runoffs
2) state budget
3) federal funds shortage

I'll say right now that I haven't fact-checked the numbers Brizard gave us. I'm not a journalist, school ends in 3 days; I don't have time to do so at the moment.

A parent asked Brizard where she was really supposed to go to get more information or help when the programs--specifically, a summer orientation program for Von Steuben freshmen--that she and her daughters relied on have disappeared, often without warning. She noted that community schools don't have money.

While not addressing the nitty-gritty details of her question, Brizard responded by laying it out: the district does have money. It just doesn't have enough (me: and Von Steuben made the priority to cut the freshman orientation?). And that is a "structural" problem within the district. Brizard said that what they "advertised" with the 7-hour day assumed flat funding from the state. In fact, Illinois just cut $60 million from what they're providing to CPS for FY2013.

Illinois is funding education at the worst level in the country. That ranking is based on percentage of budget spent on education, not pure numbers. In New York, he said, the per-pupil spending was just under $18,000. In Chicago, it's half of that. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, other districts spend less than that per-pupil, but I find that hard to believe given the funding formula in Illinois. I suspect that Chicago has the highest per-pupil amount of state funds; other IL districts have a larger portion of local monies to make up the difference.

It's also difficult to compare per-pupil funding across states, as the funding formulas may or may not be calculated the same, as a quick online survey of other states' per-pupil funding shows (Michigan=$12,000, Houston=$5600).

Brizard said that just to replace the boilers in every school would cost the district $4 billion. So life at CPS quickly becomes an ongoing exercise in setting priorities and letting non-priorities fall by the wayside. And who best to do that but the principal and LSC at individual schools--not some bureaucrat downtown, Brizard said.

Another parent raised the issue of overcrowding and the use of mobile classrooms, and how they both affect socialization within a school population. It is a real issue at her child's school (Canty). What to do if your school doesn't even have a playground or green space, as is true for so many schools within Chicago? As Monica Lee reported on her talk at the PTA Advisory Council, there are some supports in place to flag and correct that. But Brizard, they know it's a problem. I got the sense that he hopes individual school communities can come up with creative solutions.

Mostly, at this point in the meeting, I felt relieved. We are so fortunate at Disney II. And we are fortunate because of a group effort. This is not to say that our school is not without problems and foibles (I'd love for my kids to have gym, art, music, technology on a daily basis, but at least they get it at all. In an ideal world, there'd be no lead paint in a building my children use daily, but at least it's covered and maintained.) Certainly, it's about priority setting and funding to those priorities and only those priorities. As an active parent volunteers I've been irritated in the past by the singlemindedness of funding to the priorities.

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