Cuts to school budgets “need to stop,” senior Dalia Mena told Chicago Board of Education president David Vitale at the July 23 Board of Education meeting.
“I’m here today to talk about unacceptable budget cuts that are happening in our schools,” said Dalia, who identified herself as a Steinmetz student and student leader in Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools and Voices of Chicago Youth.
“Last year our school budget was cut by over a million dollars. This year, you, CPS, are cutting it another $450,000. Not only are the budget cuts affecting my school, but neighborhood schools all over Chicago. Where is this money going if it’s not going for our schools?”
Dalia said last year’s cuts to the Steinmetz budget hurt students. She said students had to share books and use old computers, and that her counselor wasn’t available to her because she was teaching a class.
“We need to stop these budget cuts,” Dailia said. “You’re setting our schools up for failure.”
Dalia was joined in her analysis by parents and teachers at the board meeting.
The first person to speak from the list of those signed up for public participation was Jennifer Biggs of the parent group Raise Your Hand Coalition. She presented a brief but detailed critique of the Board’s budget, focusing on the expansion of charter schools at the expense of the city’s real public schools. She said that her group wanted the Board to shut down several central office departments, reduce others, and put in a moratorium on further charter expansion instead of cutting school budgets.
Tim Meegan, a Roosevelt teacher and union leader, elaborated on how much the Board had undermined Roosevelt.
“Roosevelt High School has seen a two-year loss of over $1.8 million and 20 positions despite only 99 fewer students over the same period,” he said.
“Charters saw an increase of $62 million and neighborhood schools were cut $67 million. This reflects the Board’s budgeting priorities.”
Mr. Meegan also said that there is a “have a three-tiered education system” of magnet/selective enrollment schools, charter schools, and neighborhood schools.
Under the new “student-based budgeting,” which last year drastically cut most schools’ budgets, the magnet schools get up to eight positions paid by the Board, and charters get special allowances and private funding, Mr. Meegan said. But the neighborhood schools, serving most of the special education and English language learner population, get budget cuts.
Mr. Meegan also spoke about the “Barrack Obama High School” announced this year, planned for the city’s Gold Coast:
“How can you spend $60 million on another Northside magnet named after the first black president when the media reports skyrocketing white enrollment and plummeting black enrollment at magnet schools? You are re-segregating the public schools.”
For more than 20 years, the school board (appointed by Chicago’s mayors) has set up neighborhood schools for failure by underfunding them, creating selective enrollment schools then rating the neighborhood schools poorly on highly publicized lists that compare them to the selective enrollment schools, and promoting privately run charter schools as more attractive options to parents. Decreased enrollment further starves the schools of resources under “school based budgeting.”
Last year many people (including Steinmetz students and staff) protested CPS’ plans to create two new charter high schools on the Northwest side. One of the schools was built across the street from Prosser High School. During the 2013-2014 school year, Dalia and other students spoke out at Board meetings and neighborhood hearings about the negative affect the charters would have on Steinmetz.
At Star press time, Steinmetz has more than 100 fewer freshmen enrolled than it did last year.