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CPS finally answered budget hearing questions — two days after the Board of Education voted to approve the 2010 - 2011 budget!

On August 9, 2010, Chicago Public Schools released a preliminary budget for FY2011. The district also held three community hearings to allow the public to ask questions about the proposed budget. CPS officials gathered the questions.

Diana Ferguson (CPS Chief Financial Officer) and Christina Herzog (CPS Chief Budget Officer) took notes at the hearings, but refused to answer questions. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The questions and answers can be found below, and "additional questions and answers will be added on an ongoing basis", CPS said. This was posted August 27, 2010, two days after the Board voted to approve the budget. Substance received the complete transcripts of the hearings. They are being posted here at www.substancenews.net complete.

QUESTION: Why weren’t more copies of the budget book printed?

ANSWER: CPS prints a limited number of proposed budget books to conserve costs. The proposed budget book is posted online at cps.edu for public review and hard copies are available on file in the Board Office for review. Once the budget book is finalized and approved by the Board, copies are distributed to public libraries and schools. In addition, the final budget is posted online.

QUESTION: Are there Spanish editions of the budget book forthcoming?

ANSWER: Currently CPS only publishes the budget book in English. However, CPS recognizes that large populations of CPS students are bilingual and come from Spanish speaking households. Therefore, CPS will make key sections of the final budget book available in Spanish this year.

QUESTION:Where can I find positions and salary information in the budget book?

ANSWER: The budget book provides position information and not employee information. Additional budget files in the index of files available online includes budgeted salaries for positions. Employee names, corresponding positions and salaries are posted online and updated four times a year. After the Board approves the budget we will update the link with FY 2011 position information.

QUESTION: Where can I find information on the salaries of senior leadership?

ANSWER: The position file posted online includes salaries of all CPS employees including the CEO and other senior leaders. CPS will update this position file four times a year.

QUESTION: What is the status of the $800 million line of credit?

ANSWER: First, it’s important to understand what a line of credit actually is. A line of credit is an opportunity to borrow funds that must be paid back from local tax revenues. It is not new or incremental revenue for the district.

On June 15, 2010 the Board of Education authorized a line of credit to cover temporary cash flow fluctuations in FY 2011, such as delayed payments from the State of Illinois. Since then, CPS has solicited bids from financial institutions. CPS is in the process of finalizing the line of credit with several banks and negotiating the terms of the transactions, including the interest CPS will pay and the total amount of the line (which will not exceed what the Board authorized). CPS will negotiate the best possible interest rates and lowest fees. CPS expects the line of credit to be in place and ready for draw in September. Some have suggested CPS use this line of credit to close our budget deficit. This is not a legally or fiscally viable option. We may only draw on the line of credit to cover district-wide expenses (such as payroll) when we have not received the revenue from the state or other sources to cover these expenses.

QUESTION: Why does CPS use consultants? Where can I find consulting figures in the budget book?

ANSWER: The reality is that it’s impossible—or least very, very expensive—for any organization of CPS’s size to be able to do everything. CPS hires consultants and service providers who specialize in certain fields to add to our capabilities on a temporary, as-needed basis rather than a permanent one. This helps ensure that the District is getting the most out of its resources. Consulting expenses include a wide array of contractual services our schools and students need—many of them mandated by the federal or state government. Consulting fees include what we pay to outside providers of tutoring, special education services, professional development, art and athletic programming, after school programming and technical and IT services, among others.

Consulting spending is budgeted as a part of the larger Professional, Non-Professional and Technical Services budget line. This line totals $152.7M in FY 2011 (see pg. 94 in the proposed budget book). More than half of the total budget line is budgeted directly to schools, mostly for curriculum coaching and technical support, while another $50M is appropriated for federally mandated after school tutoring programs.

If you’d like to see how much we reduced FY 2010 consultant spending, you can see a summary and a full list of providers here.

QUESTION: Why don’t we answer questions at budget hearings? Why isn’t there an honest dialogue at these hearings?

ANSWER: We view the budget hearings as just that: hearings. Our job is to listen, collect your feedback, and report it back to our larger team and the Board of Education. If we engage in individual conversations during the hearings, we don’t get to hear everyone who attends. And, many of the questions asked at the hearings require detailed explanations that don’t lend themselves to short answers.

QUESTION: How will CPS use the money from the federal education jobs bill? Are we going to divert that money to “programs,” or use it for its intended purpose?

ANSWER: CPS will use the money from the federal jobs bill only in ways that are consistent with the Department of Education guidance, including compensation and benefits and other expenses necessary to retain existing employees, to recall or rehire former employees, and to hire new employees, in order to provide early childhood, elementary, or secondary educational and related services. Although we don’t know when the money will be allocated, we are acting immediately to ensure a smooth start to school. We will focus first on returning average high school class size to normal levels and restoring some bilingual positions.

QUESTION: Why do we spend so much on legal fees? Why do we employ more than 100 lawyers? And if CPS has so many in-house lawyers, why do we also employ outside counsel?

ANSWER: Our Law Department employs 46 lawyers to ensure the district complies with all federal, state and municipal laws. As you might imagine, laws and regulations governing schools, students and employees are complex and ever-changing. Our legal team meets an enormous array of obligations, including providing daily legal advice to the board, executive managers and staff. The department provides advice and support to the principals at more than 650 schools in the implementation of federal, state and local education laws and policies. The department plays a key role in investigating misconduct and unlawful behavior against students as well as advising and assisting in employee and student discipline procedures. Other areas of representation and support include transactional matters, land acquisition and school construction and commercial litigation.

Above all else, the department defends school district officials and employees, including teachers and educational support personnel, in lawsuits filed against them in federal, state and local forums. Because the law is so complicated, it’s nearly impossible to employ an expert in every part of it. We do employ outside counsel for advice on specific issues and expertise on issues to add to the office’s capabilities on a temporary, as-needed basis rather than a permanent one. This helps ensure that we’re getting the most out of our resources.

QUESTION: Why does CPS claim that the pension relief provided by the General Assembly is a victory?

ANSWER: We do not see this as a victory, but as a short-term, temporary solution for this fiscal year and the next two. Even during this temporary relief, CPS continues to contribute significant payments to the plan. Please note that Chicago Public Schools is the only school district in the state that is required to make contributions to the pension plan. These contributions come from the same operating fund that CPS uses to pay teachers, benefits and other operating expenses. In other districts, the state makes that contribution.

QUESTION: Did decision-makers attend the budget hearings?

ANSWER: Yes, decision-makers did attend the hearings. But decision making is a process that involves many people, not just one or two. Chief Financial Officer Diana Ferguson and Management & Budget Officer Christina Herzog represent the larger team that builds the budget each year. That includes the budget staff, senior leaders of the district, and the 680 principals of our schools. Ultimately, members of the Board of Education are the decision makers for the district. CPS employees who attended the hearings are responsible for conferring this information to the Board.

QUESTION: Were teachers dismissed without regard to seniority? Did CPS deny these teachers due process? Will we bring those teachers back with funds from the federal jobs bill?

ANSWER: Teachers were not dismissed without regard to seniority. Regrettably, due to CPS’ financial shortfall, teachers and many other employees were laid off or honorably dismissed. All teacher layoffs occurred in accordance with the CTU collective bargaining agreement, the Illinois School Code and the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act. In anticipation of receiving funds from the federal jobs bill, some, but not all, of the teachers who were honorably terminated will return to CPS. CPS is currently working directly with principals and their focus is opening positions, which will return high-school class size to pre-July 1st levels.

QUESTION: Why haven’t teachers laid off prior to this year been able to participate in job fairs this year?

ANSWER: Given the size of the displacements this year due to budgetary reasons, drops in enrollment, school actions and relatively small number of vacancies for which schools are hiring, we felt it most important to offer this service and support to our recently displaced teachers as they have had a condensed time period to search for work compared to teachers displaced in prior years.

QUESTION: Does CPS receive funds from the Illinois state lottery?

ANSWER: Yes, CPS does receive revenue that the State of Illinois collects from the Illinois state lottery. The Illinois state lottery is one of the state’s revenue sources for K-12 education funding; it is not additional funding on top of the state K-12 education budget.

When the Illinois General Assembly created the state lottery in 1974, it did not restrict the lottery revenue to a specific educational program. Revenue from the lottery is pooled with other revenues in the State General Funds. As a result, lottery revenues have not significantly increased the K-12 state education budget. Because all revenue sources are co-mingled by the state, there is no way of knowing how much is distributed to CPS.

QUESTION: How were the budget hearings publicized?

ANSWER: CPS advertised the dates and locations of the budget hearings in the Chicago Sun-Times on August 9, 2010. In addition the dates and locations of the hearings were posted on cps.edu and information was provided to area offices, Local School Relations and principals for distribution.

QUESTION: Will the Board of Education review transcripts from the budget hearings prior to voting?

ANSWER: The Board of Education will have a copy of the budget hearing transcripts for review prior to the Board Meeting on August 25. In addition, staff who attended the budget hearings will brief Board members on the hearings prior to the meeting.

QUESTION: When will the Board of Education vote on the budget?

The Chicago Board of Education will vote on the FY 2011 budget at the August 25th Board Meeting.

(UPDATE: The Board unanimously passed the budget at the August Board Meeting).



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