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LSC 'hearing' at Simeon exposes lies of CPS on budget 'crisis'... CPS Office of Local School Council Relations Budget Informational Session held at Simeon High School features the version of reality now being presented by the Board's latest 'Chief Financial Officer,' Ginger Ostro...

Above, the audience at the hearing on the budget for LSCs at Schurz High School. The article below is about the hearing at Simeon Vocational High School, not about Schurz. Substance photo by Larry Duncan.INTRODUCTION... The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Office of Local School Council (LSC) Relations scheduled three Budget Informational Sessions on the same date and time (Monday, July 20, 2015) in city locations north (Schurz High School), south (Simeon), and west (Westinghouse). Scheduled to begin at 6:00 PM, the session at Simeon High School located at 8147 S. Vincennes did not begin until almost 6:30.

At 6:25 Phillip Hampton, Chief Officer for the office of Family & Community Engagement (FACE) informed the audience of approximately 50 that there would be brief introductions, a budget presentation, and room for comments at the end. When he said they were waiting for Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Ginger Ostro, who was on her way, one member of the audience asked if the time would then be extended for the audience participation portion. There was no answer; however, ultimately each of the 19 audience members who lined up was allowed to participate, with the meeting ending at approximately 7:40.

After being repeatedly thanked for our patience, with Mr. Hampton particularly thanking LSC members for their time and dedication as well as their awesome yet sometimes thankless responsibilities of determining spending priorities and maximizing money for the classrooms of their schools, Ms. Ostros presentation began.

CPS PRESENTATION

The Power Point presentation began with an overview. Principals received their budgets on July 13. It was important for LSCs to get the same information, for CPS to share budget context decisions, share the big picture, and hear your input. Ostro said that there was an increase in pension costs and a decline in state and federal monies. Since CPS did not succeed recently with obtaining further financial supports from Springfield, she claimed, one slide proclaimed: We have nowhere to turn federal funds and property taxes are limited and $200M of announced cuts may impact your schools. [M = million]

A new budgeting system called Hyperion was said to be making it easier for principals who were now able to view what-if scenarios and produce new reports of information easier to share with their chiefs and you. A graphic on one of the slides was mysteriously missing; the audience viewed two arrows and was told to imagine the orange charts which would have been indicating a $106M decrease in funding from the state. While other districts received $2,066 per student for pension funding from the state, CPS received $157, Ostro said. CPS was the only district that had to pick up pension costs. In FY (fiscal year) 2014, this amount was $1,600 per student, approximately one-third of CPSs Student Based Budgeting (referred to by Ostro as SBB).

A chart indicated that property tax revenues over time were pretty flat, Ostro said.

We cant turn to property taxes this source of revenue had limits to the rate of inflation, CPS was limited in their authority, and there would be impacts on families. Theme: revenue decline, revenue decline, and more revenue decline.

According to Ostro's presentation, Illinois ranks 48th in K-12 educational financial supports. One chart projected a decline from $1.1B in FY2016 to $1.4B in FY2020 if changes were not made. [B = billion]

She said that "SBB" rates would remain the same for FY2015 as for FY2014: $4,697 per student in grades K-3; $4,390 for grades 4-8; and $5,444 at the high school level. Additional Title I funds of $35 million were available, but those were earmarked for specific students, such as low income and English language learners.

According to one slide, from 2011 to 2015, CPS made the following cuts for a total of $740M: Administration $182M; Operations $344.1M; Programs $169.7M; and Debt Obligations (2011 only) $44M.

Additional cuts this year included: 1,400 positions (which included not filling 350 vacancies); $17.4M from Networks and AUSL teacher development and start-up funds; $11.6M for professional development to turnarounds; $2.3M bus transportation for magnet schools; $3.2M coaching stipends for elementary schools; $9.2M from high school later start times; and $11.1M from repair budgets (25% across the system for engineers).

There was repetition of the phrase: money follows the students. She claimed that If student enrollment in a school increased, money increased; if enrollment declined, so did the money.

Previous hold harmless funds (funds anticipated for school enrollment numbers) that schools were allowed to keep would now follow the students.

The it was time for the jobs of the Local School Councils. FACE chief Phillip Hampton informed the audience that schools budgets needed to be approved and sent to the Networks by this Friday, July 24, 2015. A motion to approve at an emergency LSC meeting of at least 7 members would need 6 members to approve the budget. (NOTE: More on this and how CPS appears to be doing an end-run around the Open Meetings Act at the end.)

One audience member asked if they could have a copy of the slides. Yes, these would be sent to the email address of everyone on the sign-in sheets.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION

The audience was informed that Spanish translation services were available, which to my knowledge appeared to not have been needed for this meeting. The audience members were informed that they would have one minute, followed by someone holding up a sign indicating 30 seconds left. So that they might hear from everyone, please that no one monopolize the time at the mic. Specific school questions would be handled on the side. [Note: While no one monopolized the mic, the allotted time was not enforced as per Board of Education meetings.] On the stage in five cushioned, lounge-style chairs sat: Ginger Ostro, CFO; Gregory Volan, Senior Manager, Budget & Management Office; Martin Ellinger, Student Transportation Routing Team Leader; Markay Winston, Office of Diverse Learners Support Services (ODLSS); and Phillip Hampton, Chief Officer of FACE. Among other CPS employees present, including multiple white-shirted security personnel, was Henry Velarde from the Office of LSC Relations.

No one from CPS asked for the spelling of speakers names or specificity in some cases of where they were from. [Please note this with apologies for any missing names or incorrect spellings in this report.] Those who wished to speak lined-up in the aisle behind a microphone in front of the stage to the audiences left. There were a total of 19 speakers.

Alder David Moore was told he would be allowed to cut in the front of the line; he declined. (He was the last speaker.)

A representative from 3rd Ward Alder Pat Dowells office, Brian Freedman, thanked the CPS employees for their hard work and openness but then quickly questioned how CPS could bizarrely couple all these cuts with additional charter and alternative schools. How were neighborhood schools to compete to attract more students? CPS needed to fully fund neighborhood schools, particularly IB (International Baccalaureate) programs. He was against schools losing hold harmless funds, meant for schools with at-risk students as a basis for equity. It was irresponsible for CPS to privatize custodial services and now couldnt even keep the basic promise of keeping schools clean.

Kenneth Newman, a member of the Hyde Park/Kenwood Community Action Council (CAC), suggested making money via advertisements in and around schools; that recycling pick-up versus garbage pick-up could save $25M a year, with environmental education needed around that; but that the decline in middle school sports programs would increase gang recruitment as well as the drop-out rate and teen pregnancy.

Gloria Higgins, a community LSC member, was tired of the same from CPS harping on pensions as if they were out of this world, with money for charters up front and Network personnel not from Chicago with 6-figure salaries. She said that Aramark should be run out of the city of Chicago. Note: There was loud applause for anything said that was anti-charter school; nothing said was pro-charter school. Aramark was also a 100% negative.

A woman from Earle Elementary School spoke about transportation cuts and Aramark. Their bus service was changed to 9:00, and they were not involved/included in this change. The grass was cut, but the clippings were not picked up. When the water to clean smells like piss, something is wrong. Paper was left in the halls. She did not wish to even step on the carpet. A person from Vanderpoel Elementary Magnet School said that the principal had resigned with a 48-hour notice. Without a vice principal, how were they to hold a meeting for this budget when no one could even open the door for the LSC? To the loudest cheers, she asked if CPS could sue to get our money back if Barbara Byrd Bennett was convicted. As for the money follows the children, then why did charter schools get more money?

Ginger Ostro replied that charter school funding was based on the same SBB money per student enrollment; assistance for the individual school question would be given on the side.

Sue, a staff LSC member from Langston Hughes Elementary School asked about budget approval for schools on probation. It appeared that no one would or could answer; to moans the audience was told they would come back to that question. [Jumping ahead, among other information, the response to this issue given later by Jose Villasenor, Deputy Director of LSC Relations, was that LSCs of probationary schools do not technically have authority over school improvement plans or budgets, but principals are advised to consult with the LSC for input. Such an LSC can approve the budget, but the decision is not final. The decision of the Network Chief is final.]

A 29-year veteran PSRP (paraprofessional) from Willa Cather School Elementary School spoke of concern for the impacts of cuts to early childhood, impacts to black and brown schools, kids as pawns. She said that (re Aramark) dirty diapers were left overnight in the garbage cans; feet stuck to the floor while walking such that she herself had to grab a mop and clean. She brought up money for banks, TIFs, money for downtown and up north.

Karen Clark, a resident from Harper High School, challenged CPSs line of the money follows the children with an example of 500 students at Harper receiving $3.9M but 325 students at Amandla Charter High School receiving $3.2M. She said that in Englewood sports programs saved lives.

Ginger Ostro replied that cuts to sports programs were not wanted but forced and principals could still choose to fund those. CPS would look into her funding data because funding was the same.

Jim Staros, a teacher for 13 years at King High School, spoke of many cuts over the years: the entire computer science department, the Latin program, Robotics, forensic science, government, AP (advanced placement) classes, and others. He spoke of what could be done in 2 minutes: the mayor could call for an elected school board which cares about education more than corporate profits; the Board could decide to stop the millions of dollars on expansion of charter schools and fully fund the schools we already have; the mayor could reclaim hundreds of millions from toxic swaps by suing banks as other cities have done; the mayor could declare a TIF surplus and return millions to the neighborhoods.

Gabriela Sheridan from Ray Elementary School chastised the CPS representatives for blaming pension costs while not mentioning waste in spending and money for charter schools; SBB did not serve our students. Ginger Ostro replied that CPSs focus was on the inequity of pension funding; they were not saying that pensions were not earned.

Another representative from Harper said that in speaking of equity - the students needed more not less. They were given turnaround money, but now that was being cut. Kids suffered from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) but they were losing support positions such as social workers. Yet millions went to banks. CPS needed to renegotiate toxic loans, commit to high quality public education for all.

At approximately 7:20 PM, a CPS Senior Compliance Facilitator from the Office of LSC Relations, Toylee Green-Harris, interrupted and appeared to be informing those still waiting in line to speak that the session would be ending shortly so to show respect to the time-keeper. The audience challenged her that the session began 30 minutes late. The session continued as it had been going.

A young woman who stated that she had been a student representative on the Board 20 years ago said that things were the same (not positive). It was summer vacation, teachers needed to rest and prepare for the school year. The deadline for the budgets was on Friday? She mentored in the hood. You are not out there with us. Ginger Ostro apologized for the time frame.

A man asked for suggestions on how LSCs and PTAs might consider other ways to raise funds for their schools. Phillip Hampton replied that there were parent workshops in May exactly for this issue.

Angela Mosely expressed concerns for spending cuts impacting children with learning disabilities. Markay Winston replied with a straight face that CPS would not increase class sizes and would make sure that they were in compliance with ISBE (Illinois State Board of Education) class sizes of 13-to-one with a para [paraprofessional for special education classrooms].

An audience member questioned how closing 50 schools and firing teachers saved money. Where it is? The audience, clapping in support for each speaker, indicated increased support for this question.

Dominique Washington asked about principal accountability in the budgets and salary cuts to the Board. Ginger Ostro said that on July 1, lay-offs were made at the Board; she did not know offhand how many. Ms. Washington replied but that they counted 1400 of us. Someone in the audience yelled out to get rid of the Network Chiefs. Phillip Hampton said with a straight face that principals were receiving professional development. [See related reports on the investigation of SUPES Academy.]

Michael Montejano, from Harper, asked about the money saved from schools starting later. Martin Ellinger stated that that money was a one-time offer for after school made last year to schools.

This reporter spoke of there being lots of money, just not for those of us teachers, parents, community members, students who put the public in public education. Bank of America presently made almost $60M in profits each day. In 2013 the combined salaries of 158,000 kindergarten teachers at $8.4B did not match that of 4 corporate hedge fund operators at $10.4B. How about CPS looking into cuts there as revenue for the rest of us?

CPSs Jose Villasenor informed all that school budgets needed to be approved by LSCs with at least 7 members present and 6 approving votes by this Friday, July 24. If not, for whatever reasons (disapproval or lack of a meeting, for examples), principals would still submit the budgets to CPS. For changes in September, elementary school LSCs would need 7 approving votes; high schools would need 8. An emergency meeting could be called with less than the usual 48 hours notice. Principals have been advised to consult with LSCs for their input; right now, this is your input, your say. [See notes above re schools on probation.]

17th Ward Alder David Moore then stood to speak. He thanked those who were here from CPS who were in a tough role, but then spoke of the need to look out for the least of them. He did not automatically agree with everything CTU (Chicago Teachers Union), but when they were right with the issues, he agreed with them; and they were right with the issues here. As he looked around, he said that more parents were needed here to push the issues; it was not just aldermen and legislators who were needed to move anything. One audience member openly challenged him to take back that he was insinuating that parents were not here it was summer vacation! Im not supposed to be here! Alder Moores repeated message was that a few of our elected representatives did not need to be pushed, himself included, but that without pushing legislators were not going to do this on their own. City Hall should not ask for a property tax increase until there was a financial transaction tax, and he encouraged everyone to contact their representatives to support this when it was presented. He spoke of everyone paying their fair share and pushing state reps for an elected school board. The people had the power and should not wait until a wound was so infected it could not be cured. The meeting ended at approximately 7:40 PM.

FURTHER INFORMATION

I obtained copies of a handout entitled Budget Meeting Q and A with eight (8) ready-made Q & A talking points. Much of what was said by Phillip Hampton and Jose Villasenor at the informational session followed these talking points. There was one question that did not come up at the meeting: Q: Why are LSCs being rushed to approve our budgets?

A: The OMB representative will answer.

Very troubling was the following, considering that CPS created what they were now informing LSC members and the public was an emergency under which conditions the Open Meetings Act need not be followed:

Q: Do we need to provide 48 hours notice for meetings?

A: The Chair or four members calling the special meeting would need to post public notice of the meeting 48 hours in advance unless they determine that the need to approve the budget is a bona fide emergency. In that case, they still need to provide as much advance notice of the meeting to the public as possible under the circumstances. They would also need to notify the other LSC members of the date, time, place and purpose of the meeting.

This reporter previously met Toylee Green-Harris at the July LSC organizational meeting of my school. At that meeting when I took a folder of sheets supplied by the principal from on a table, he called her out into the hallway to speak with her. Upon return, Toylee Green-Harris informed me that as a member of the public I did not have a right to see or have copies of any sheets that the LSC had. If I wanted a copy of anything given to the LSC members at this or any meeting, I would need to wait for the minutes of the meeting to be approved, and then I could FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) a request for any information from the meeting. I returned the folder to the principal.

[The sheets? From what I could tell from my cut-short viewing, one was a copy of the CPS calendar for the upcoming school year; another contained the schools calendar of events for the upcoming school year; and a third was some kind of a listing of the teachers in the school. The third sheet was not discussed in any way at the meeting.] When I asked if copies of any schools improvement plans or budget information could be shared with the public at LSC meetings, Ms. Green-Harris repeated the above procedures re FOIA but added that some information could also be obtained by pulling it down from web sites. I did not receive a response to my expression of confusion regarding what I was being told by her for open meetings compared to policies and procedures for LSCs to go into executive session. I was told that the CPS Law Department did an assessment of LSCs and determined that they needed mandatory training on Board policies and procedures because old policies and procedures were being followed. She said that a copy of a Reference Guide for LSCs was available online.



Comments:

July 22, 2015 at 9:39 AM

By: Jean Schwab

Budget Meeting

Susan, Your article was so complete,I felt like I was there. I'm glad so many people spoke out about Charter Schools and how they affect the budget.

July 24, 2015 at 1:47 PM

By: Rod Estvan

Ms. Ostro's comments less than accurate

Susan Zupan as always is copious in her reports of meetings she attends, this article is no exception and demonstrate her amazing note taking skills. She reports that about 50 LCS members were present at the budget meeting representing all south side schools, its fair to assume that there are over 100 schools on the south geographic area of the city with LSCs. Many schools clearly did not even send a representative and no doubt some schools with more engaged LSCs sent more than one member. The attendance level reflects the decline in local school councils city wide and its not surprising given how their powers have been encroached upon repeatedly.

Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Ginger Ostros statement to the LSC members was inaccurate at least in one aspect based on Susans reporting. Here is what Susan reports Ms. Ostro stated: We cant turn to property taxes [direct quote] this source of revenue had limits to the rate of inflation, CPS was limited in their authority, and there would be impacts on families.

The Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) which Ms. Ostro was making indirect reference to at Section 18-205 allows CPS to ask voters to approve a higher inflationary increase than the PTELL allows. The increase must be approved before the levy date of the first levy year affected. The referendum must be conducted at a regularly scheduled election and comply with the Election Code. The ballot question must identify the proposed inflationary percentage increase (extension limitation), and each levy year to which the proposed increase will apply.

I have seen in particular Illinois House of Representatives k-12 education appropriation chairman Will Davis (Democrat from East Hazel Crest) ask CPS during hearings if they had ever called a PTELL referendum, both Ostro and the CEO said no. When asked why not, they had no answer.

As to the question Ms. Ostro raised that a property tax increase above the PTELL level would hurt families that is a more complex topic. Lower income families that do own their own homes or rent are often not living in homes that have higher market values.

For example in the Englewood community currently there only a few homes, including apartment buildings, for sale that have an asking price above $175,000. Some homes have market values now as low as $9,000, many homes have lost values and have seen actual overall declines in property taxes since 2008.

If some consider Englewood to be a loaded example, then lets look at Gage Park. The median home value in Gage Park is now $108,600. Gage Park home values have declined -1.2% over the past year which generally has seen values rise. The median home value in Back of the Yards is $96,700. Back of the Yards home values have declined -3.7% over the past year. Property taxes because of assessment declines have gone down in many lower income communities. So the most likely family units impacted by any increase in Chicago property taxes in the City will be families that are above the poverty threshold used to determine free or reduced lunch in schools.

Rod Estvan

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