For CPS, It's Back to School Under Cloudy Skies, Murky Finances

Hundreds of thousands of Chicago Public Schools students on Tuesday returned to the classroom amid massive financial woes for the district: an expired teacher contract and a $480 million budget hole.

On Chicago Tonight, we'll hear from students and principals at some schools experiencing the deepest cuts, and from CPS administrators visiting schools on their first day. Brandis Friedman has the story.

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Above: Photos from Brandis' recent visits to Kelvyn Park High School and Wells Community Academy High School.

Budget cuts

Plenty of schools learned that their budgets would be decreasing this year because their enrollment was projected to decrease. That news was later followed up with layoffs of hundreds of teachers – and hundreds of other staffers – before the school year began.

Today, that first day of school is here, and schools are making due without those additional funds and those teachers and personnel.

One of them is Kelvyn Park High School, a level three school on intensive district support for 19 years, in the city's Logan Square neighborhood. Population at the school was projected to be down by 125 students compared to last year. (We won't know actual enrollment numbers until the 20th day of school.)

Under student-based budgeting, this means the school loses nearly $1.7 million this school year.

The district has said the money follows the students – so some other schools are noticing an increase in enrollment this year. But the Chicago Teachers Union and other CPS critics argue some neighborhood schools are being forced to compete for enrollment because of other schools opening in the area.

Last week, as schools were preparing for their first day, we caught up with another school facing a similar problem – Kelly High School in Brighton Park. It's considered a level two school, which means it’s in good standing, but it still lost over $833,000 under student-based budgeting this year.

Principal Jim Coughlin says he's starting this school year with eight fewer teachers – he says he's lucky he only had to lay off one teacher, because he had seven retire at the end of last school year. And while he may be able to rehire a few teachers once his actual enrollment numbers are confirmed and CPS increases his budget, he's still in a tough position.

Video: Kelly High School Principal Jim Coughlin talks about how the budget cuts are affecting his school. Kelly’s projected budget for this year was supposed to be down by $833,000.

Advice for schools

Throughout the week, CPS administrators are visiting schools and welcoming students back to the classroom.

We caught up with Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson at Roberto Clemente Community Academy in West Town.

She explained that while she knows those staff cuts mean additional work for the teachers and staff who are still on the job, she also knows the educators who show up every day won't let the district's financial problems get in the way of educating students.

The mayor also visited schools both this morning and at dismissal this afternoon.

We also caught up with his former chief of staff, and new schools chief Forrest Claypool, while visiting Wells Community Academy High School.

To solve this budget problem, Claypool says he needs everyone to give a little bit, so no one has to give too much. That includes Springfield and the teachers, whose contract is still under negotiation.

Video: CPS CEO Forrest Claypool discusses how the first day of school has gone for the schools he visited and how the district’s budget crisis can be solved.

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