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CPS BUDGET ANALYSIS: CPS Budget Through the Looking Glass... Three “interactive” lessons for uncovering misleading data on teachers via trips through the FY 2013 CPS budget looking glass

As a Chicago resident, Substance reporter, teacher, and taxpayer, I am confused about the information presented for teachers, students, and administrators in the recently unveiled Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Proposed Budget. For one, I cannot quite determine how CPS is counting teachers or adding up the total costs of our (I am a CPS teacher) salaries. In this report I attempt to explain how and why I am confused via three lessons or exercises (below). Please feel free to be confused as well and/or assist me via your input below in our comments section.

You must begin with a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Proposed Budget in front of you. How to get that, you ask? To my knowledge, you must have access to the internet via a computer. If you cannot do this, you are SOL, and I am not going to tell you exactly what that means except to say you are “out of luck.” Anyone who can find an actual copy of the budget in the places where it used to be available (your local schools; the alderman's office; the local public library), feel free to report it to Substance in a "Comment" here. But please also be precise. As far as we have been able to tell as of today (June 10, 2012), the CPS budget is only available in Cyberspace. It's as if suddenly you could read any book you wanted — provided you have a Kindle or something like it. Because all of the books and all of the libraries had suddenly been disappeared. Personally, I followed an easy link from a newspaper article someone e-mailed me. But there are other ways to get there. Start at www.cps.edu, the CPS home page. From there, click “News” to access the recent “News Release” wishfully entitled, “CPS FY 13 Budget Protects Investments in Student Achievement” (July 6, 2012). If you want to read the news release, be my guest. But as soon as you find yourself starting to overdose on the BS, scroll almost to the bottom. If you, “Dear Stakeholder,” reach the signature of Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard (written as “Jean Clu Bry”) you have gone a bit too far. Back up and choose either of the two available links: the sentence chunk “our website and for the first time the public will be able to utilize interactive tools” or (www.cps.edu/budget). Note: Do not enter this last information into a general internet search because you will not be easily led to the 2013 budget. However, entering “cps.edu/budget” into a search from the CPS home page will eventually lead to what you need to begin as well.

With me so far? Good. Click the third rectangle to the left entitled “Interactive Reports.” You are ready!

Sidenote: Interactive here in CPS’s lingo does not appear to mean “mutual or reciprocal action or influence” as the word interaction is defined in one consulted, adult level, Webster’s Dictionary.

It also does not appear to mean “active between people, groups, or things” as the word is first defined in an intermediate level Merriam-Webster’s. However, in the intermediate level dictionary, the second definition is perhaps appropriate with interactive defined as “involving the actions or input of a user ; esp: allowing two-way electronic communications (as between a person and a computer)”.

In the case of the CPS FY 2013 Proposed Budget, interactive appears to mean “watch the numbers you click turn into graphs, plus get a little more data as you click away.” In a separate section for the CPS budget entitled “Reader’s Guide,” this action is referred to as being able to “drill down to get more detail.” There does not appear to be any mechanism on the CPS budget site for implementing the word interactive as meaning having input, defined as “advice, comment.” (Good luck with that at any of the budget hearings as well.)

EXERCISE No. 1. ALPHABETICAL ORDER, CHICAGO STYLE. AND WHAT IS A 'TEACHER'

After clicking on the Interactive Reports box, you should have the “Interactive Dashboard” of the CPS budget in front of you with a friendly greeting of: “Welcome to the CPS Interactive Budget.” Look for the tab at the top labeled, “Budget by Account.” Click it. You may try by yourself to find information on teachers at your local school at this point. You will not get the information I am presenting by logically (you think) going to the “Find Your School Budget Tab.” Trust me on this one, and follow these cues while we surf at least a few waves together first.

Scroll down to “Salary” listed on the first table at a whopping $2,572,470,141. Click. On the next page scroll down past the bar graphs to the section of the table under “Account Name” labeled “A51100: Teacher Salaries – Regular” (listed as $1,818,368,170). Before you click this box to proceed, answer this question: Did you see any terms so far for administrators (read: principals and assistant principals) in this section? Answer: no. Save that thought.

Very Important Note: Once again, the geniuses running CPS have placed the schools in ABC order by first name. There are dozens of schools named "William," from William Rainey Harper to William Howard Taft, but no school named "William William" so you won't find most of what you want under the Ws. Forge ahead, though.

In another section tabbed “Find Your School Budget,” the various departments within the Board of Education are thrown into the mix with the schools in said only-in-CPS-style of ABC order.

However, here in this “Budget by Account” section, weirdly enough, “Infinity Math, Science and Technology High School (at Little Village)” is listed first, followed by “Magnet, Gifted & Talented” before the rest of the A’s begin. Please, stop right now and get a grip on reality if you are expecting for this budget to make clear sense, dear stakeholders (or perhaps pitchfork-holders at this point already). But, I digress.

Together now, let’s check out the data for one neighborhood, public school: Alexander Hamilton School. Click the “A51100: Teacher Salaries – Regular” box. Scroll down to the school, chosen solely due to its convenient placement (though grossly illogical and anti-intellectual) in CPS’s ABC order under the first name. Thus it is located on the very first page under “Alexander,” plus it also forces you to scroll to the bottom of the page and possibly imagine how much more awaits. If you do not know the first names of many CPS schools, oh well.

By now you may have guess that CPS may or may not have an "Alexander" School. In fact, "A" means H in this case. "Alexander" means "Alexander Hamilton," which anyone who has ever learned alphabetical order, Chicago version, is supposed to know.

Before you click the Alexander Hamilton School link from this “Department/School Budget” page, notice the number 26 in the final column labeled “FY 2013 Proposed Positions.” Once you click, scroll down past “Students” (make a mental note for future reference that such a section is available) and keep scrolling past “Teachers” (again with a total of 26, and make a mental note for future reference that such a section is available) and “School/Department Budget” to a little beyond “Position Summary.” There you will find a table entitled “Position Class.” Before you click the “Teachers” link in that table, note again the previous number of 26 “proposed positions.” And when you click, voila! The types of teachers’ positions are listed under “Job Summary,” except that an assistant principal and the principal are also now listed as well.

Yes, the total number of teachers for Alexander Hamilton School is still listed as 26; CPS is not counting the two administrators in this number. (Disclosure warning: Not for this school, but just wait….) However, CPS is adding the salaries of these two administrative positions into the total under “Teachers.”

Go back to the previous page using the blue arrow at the top left corner of the page. Scroll back down to “Teacher” in that table, and you can see that CPS presents to the public that 26 teachers at Alexander Hamilton School cost $1,888,195. Except that when we “drilled down” we found that this total also included the cost of 2 administrators at a total of $207,282. If this is the CPS budget presentation for every neighborhood, public school, we can hope that anyone sifting through this data has his/her calculator at the ready and is determining, “Hey, these teachers actually do NOT cost quite as much as CPS is putting up front to me on those first pages that they actually cost — in fact by $100s of $1000s per each public, neighborhood school because they are including the salaries of more expensive assistant principals as well as principals who have 6-digit salaries in the category titled “Teachers.” I don’t think so either.

EXERCISE No. 2. COMMON CORE MATH, CPS BUDGET STYLE...

Do not feel confident about anything from the above EXERCISE No. 1. If you try the same exact exercise for two other schools on that very same first “Department/School Budget” page, you will obtain entirely different results.

For a first example, instead of Alexander Hamilton choose A N Pritzker School. Here is the first data on teachers that hits you: 38 teachers at a cost of $2,762,266. However, drilling down exactly as we did in EXERCISE No. 1, you’ll find that if both the principal and assistant principal are included in the number of teachers counted, the total adds up to a mysterious 39. So apparently only one of them has been included in the count for teachers. However, as was the same for Alexander Hamilton School, the salaries of the two administrators (totaling $235,179) at A N Pritzker are included in the total listed for “Teachers” on the previous pages.

Clear enough for you? For a second example, instead of the previous two schools, on that same first page choose A Philip Randolph Magnet School. The teacher count is 33; however, a deeper "drilling down" reveals that this number appears to actually now include both the principal and assistant principal, leaving 31 teachers. So, apparently $251,342 of that total $2,374,343 that seems to be listed for Teacher’s salaries is again administrative, but this time two administrators are counted as teachers.

Having fun yet? This is only from the CPS ever-clear data available on the number of teachers (and administrators) and their salaries from the first ABC-ordered A page. I confess that I have not researched all of the data for all of the schools listed in order to see which one of the three above data scenarios repeats more often than the others (and there may be even more) perhaps to be considered as a reference point. (We shouldn’t have to!) And I remain clueless on how to figure out via this budget if the assistant principals and/or principals are actually teaching in any classrooms in order to determine CPS’s 2013 allocation of teachers to students for elementary schools regarding class size. (More on this below.)

EXERCISE No. 3. REAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND OTHER... THE CHARTER SCHOOLS COVER UP

The reason Alexander Hamilton School is referred to above as a public, neighborhood school is, in fact, meant to draw a complete and utter comparison to privately-operated but publicly-funded charter schools. You know, the ones that began under the promise to taxpayers of eventually becoming 100% financially self-sufficient, of which we have witnessed the exact opposite occurring in reality. Magnet schools, unlike the neighborhood schools, have selective enrollment. However, for the purposes of this CPS FY 2013 Proposed Budget, the data for magnet schools is given in the same manner as for the neighborhood schools.

Questionable and troubling differences concern the data presented by CPS for the charters schools in this 2013 proposed budget. For this exercise in comparison regarding budget data made available by CPS for public schools versus budget data made available by CPS for publicly-funded but privately-run (none of your taxpayer business) charter schools, we need to go to a different tab back on the top on that Interactive Dashboard page.

Why?

No information for charter schools appears to be available in the previously utilized “Budget by Account” section. For the charter school information CPS has made available, we need to go to tab located on the far right entitled, “Find Your School Budget.” One of the first charter school group campus mutation thingies listed is for ASPIRA.

Let’s choose ASPIRA Charter — Haugan Middle School Campus. Click and note the first section that was available previously for the public schools (above) listed as “Students.” Oh, you can’t find it? Try to find the next section we scrolled by labeled “Teachers.” Oh, you can’t find that one either? To my knowledge, CPS is not disclosing in this budget the number of teachers or the number of students at its charter schools. However, from this “Find Your School Budget” page for ASPIRA Charter — Haugan Middle School Campus, scroll down to the heading “Account Group” with a subheading of “Salary.” Here you will find the only data drilled down for you to peruse further regarding employees at the school. Unfortunately, it only gives you information regarding the Career Service employees (such as lunchroom personnel) at the charter school.

If you want data on Teachers, perhaps you think that might be found under the subheading “Contracts.” Wrong. At the cost listing of $4,159,989.00, dear taxpayers/stakeholders/pitchfork-holders, why on earth do you think you have the right to know just how many teachers and/or administrators are being paid to teach just whatever amount of students might be in this privately-run but publicly-funded charter school?

To my knowledge, without filling further hours of my time drilling down deeper (except to perhaps want to put an actual drill to their heads at this point), information re: number of students, number of administrators, and number of teachers with a breakdown of those job categories as given by CPS for the public schools (above, however mixed up that was) is not as readily available or is just not available at all for the publicly-funded (read: you pay for ‘em) but privately-run charter schools.

Try again a little further down with Alain Locke Charter School, and you will get the same thing with different not-deep-driven numbers. If you click around, you will find that the amount for “General Fund” is the same as for “Contracts.” But at a cost of total cost of $4,277,410 for the FY 2013, why should you know the number of students or teachers and/or administrators at the school or get even close to knowing their approximate salaries? You only pay for them.

CLASS SIZE ISSUE(S)

One last, giant question, for me anyway: How might CPS determine class size this year? Do they plan to start counting principals as well as assistant principals as “teachers” when they allocate teaching positions to the elementary schools? For those who are not familiar with this issue, it has been the disingenuous habit of CPS to count assistant principals as teachers in the elementary schools for the purposes of using the contract formulas utilized to determine the number of Board-funded teachers allocated for students.

Regarding regular education classrooms in the city schools, following the Agreement Between the Board of Education of the City of Chicago and Chicago Teachers Union Local 1 American Federation of Teachers AFL-CIO July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2012, the number of students per teacher allocated by CPS to elementary schools basically looked like this: 28 at the kindergarten level; 28 at the primary level; 31 at the intermediate and upper grade level. Note that these formulas do not include special education, for which there also seems to be constant battles at the local elementary school levels to try to obtain teachers for lowering the class sizes to even these contractually high levels. In order for schools to maintain class sizes for optimal student attention and learning, often local school councils (LSCs) pay for the school to have more teachers using their discretionary state and federal money.

What makes matters worse regarding class sizes is the practice of CPS counting assistant principals who are administrators as teachers. In allocating Board-funded teaching positions to any given elementary school, CPS basically takes the total number of students in the contractual categories (above) and allots teachers per those number formulas. However, the number of teachers CPS allocates to the elementary schools includes assistant principals, most if not all of whom are not in an actual classroom teaching position in the buildings. So, from the get go, when principals organize classrooms, teachers, and students at their schools, most if not all elementary schools start with class sizes already larger than what appears from the Agreement formulas because the class-size counting and allocating automatically starts with one less “teacher” (the assistant principal) for the actual number of “teachers with a classroom,” such that that many more students need to be placed into the other classrooms with actual teachers in them. If you can follow that, good going! The question for those who follow is this: Will CPS also now include principals as teachers in its “teacher” allocations to the elementary schools, judging by its apparent counting of at least one principal as a teacher in one school noted (above) in the FY 2013 Proposed Budget?

A few final, simple review questions:

— Why does the CPS proposed budget apparently not just break down administrators’ numbers and salaries separately on those first budget pages for schools?

— How difficult would that have been? But I guess that would be as difficult as putting schools in ABC order by the last names by which the schools are actually referred.

— And, why does the CPS proposed budget apparently not give us the same data for students, teachers, and administrators in charter schools as it does for the rest of the schools?

I’ll simply end now with these pearls of wisdom which aptly apply to everything and anything in this and all CPS budgets as well as mayoral and CEO control of the schools I’ve seen to date: “Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all — May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.” (from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss)



Comments:

July 12, 2012 at 1:18 PM

By: Anthony Smith

PROFESSIONAL REPORTING, WTTW CHECK THIS OUT TO SEE HOW IT IS DONE!

Dear Susan,

WOW,

Thanks for sifting through that minefield and making sense of it for us! Thanks for calling out the Mayor and Board members for not making a "hard copy" available to the public, which after all, pays their salaries!

Could we send a copy of this to WTTW's Chicago Tonight's management so that they can

see how REAL REPORTERS DO IT!

Keep up the great work.

Best wishes,

Anthony Smith

July 12, 2012 at 1:49 PM

By: Susan Zupan

FYI: Information update

One piece of the data available from the CPS FY 2013 Proposed Budget regarding the above research changed overnight. A Philip Randolph Magnet School's number of regular teaching positions changed from 33 to 32.5.

However, the financial information available from the budget did not change in any way to reflect this change in position numbers.

Somehow, whether or not there are 33 or 32.5 "teaching" positions listed at the school, the cost listed for the school under "Teacher" (and remember - this includes the salaries for the principal and assistant principal) is still $2,374,343; the cost listed for all CPS "Teacher Salaries - Regular" remains $1,818,368,170; and the overall CPS general listing for "Salary" is still $2,572,470,141.

So, apparently this .5 teaching position within CPS would have cost but instead saved the Board $0.00. That or the lever-pullers behind the curtain of the Board's new interactive budget can only change the number of teaching positions but not the costs associated with them?

???!

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