The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

CPS Struggling to Control Deficit, Proposes Consolidating Neighborhood Schools

By Soyoung Kwak in News on Apr 2, 2011 6:30PM

2010_07_22_CPS.jpg When it rains in Chicago Public Schools land, it definitely pours: Interim Chicago Public Schools CEO Terry Mazany recently stated that the estimated deficit for CPS for the next school year is an extravagant $720 million, which is $20 million more than what the projected deficit was this past November. How does Mazany propose to control the deficit? Well, by going to teachers and their paychecks, for starters:

Mazany called for "shared sacrifice," including from teachers. Their pay raises will cost $80 million but, Mazany said, any successor to him appointed after Rahm Emanuel is seated as mayor May 16 will have to decide whether to try to re-negotiate the teachers' contract to trim that tab.

The bad news doesn't stop there. In an effort to address declining enrollment numbers at certain schools, Mazany indicated that he would look into consolidating eight public schools into six others, even "phasing out" a school along the way:

Mazany announced plans to consolidate eight schools into six others. A 15th school, Tilton, would slowly "phase out" of existence, with any new kids in its attendance area picked up by two other schools. In total, about 700 students would be routed to new buildings under the proposals, officials estimated. They projected an April school board vote on the plans, but said hearings could trigger changes.

If the school board votes this month regarding CPS' proposals and if everything is approved, the decision will affect roughly 4,800 students, eliminate 100 teaching positions as well as eliminate eight principal positions. Upset by the absence of any warning about the proposals, teachers' unions and other parties have been questioning CPS' move in announcing the proposals right before Mayor Daley leaves office and a new CEO is chosen to head the Chicago Public Schools system. The mere fact that Mazany announced these proposals in late March has caused somewhat of a commotion, as Valencia Rias, a member of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, pointed out that news of consolidations, closings, and phase-outs are normally announced in January, not in March, so that families have time to apply for magnet schools or for space in other schools before the new school year began in the fall.

Moreover, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis cried foul at Mazany's announcement by stating that CPS officials violated promises by former Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman to involve the union in school shakeup decisions and to give communities earlier warning, and that CPS had a "moral obligation" to honors the promises of its former CEO. Convinced that implementing these change will bring about "long-term efficiencies," Mazany defended his proposal in response to Lewis by stating that CPS can no longer wait to take action.

If the news of school consolidations isn't enough, Mazany indicated that more "shakeups" could be possible regarding teacher "turnarounds" (where teachers at an academically-failing school are given pink slips but the students remain). Mazany said that teacher turnarounds will still be considered by the end of the current school year.

It is tough to say whether or not these changes would be enough to get CPS out of the deep end of the deficit, but Mazany's announcement is alarming and makes us wonder what the fate of CPS will be once May 16 rolls around.

(A list of some of the proposed consolidations and changes can be found here.)