Lightfoot’s CPS Budget Proposes Millions for Upgrades, Improvements

WTTW News has learned that a neutral fact-finder’s report – issued as a part of the contract negotiating process between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union – favors the mayor’s negotiating team. A CTU source concurs, saying by the union’s own assessment, the report agrees with the district.

Fact-finding has to be completed before the union can take a strike vote. Typically, both sides have 15 days to decide whether to accept or reject the report, which WTTW News has obtained a copy of.

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“It’s not public yet, and it won’t be public for another few weeks, but I think it recognizes and respects the offer that we put on the table,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters during a press conference to release the district’s budget proposal, the first under the new mayor.

The report also shows that some of the social issues the union had been attempting to negotiate on – class sizes, clinicians and counselors, staffing – are outside of the fact-finder’s jurisdiction.

“We’ve put a very fair and fulsome compensation package on the table. We have made publicly our commitments to support the staff, we announced it last week. I’m saying it again today, it’s baked into the budget for next year. Let’s get the deal done,” Lightfoot said.

In that budget proposal, Chicago Public Schools does set aside $10 million to fund positions for 30 nurses, 35 social workers and 30 case managers, in addition to paying for recruiting and pipeline development.

The district has said it’s committed to hiring hundreds of these positions over the next five years, but the talent pool to fill those positions just isn’t big enough right now.

Lightfoot has made clear that while she’s committed to those staffing increases, she’s not negotiating them into the contract. But the union has expressed all along that it feels those positions should be inked in the contract – not just the budget.

“That contract is the most important document there is about guaranteeing the way our working conditions – which are student learning conditions – looks,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey told reporters before the budget was released. “So, let’s get it right let’s get it in the contract, that’s what we wanna see. That’s what we expect.”

“We are living in a city that is dealing with a tremendous amount of trauma. We have to figure out a way to make sure that trauma supports are in our schools,” said CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates.

The district says this year it is focusing on making building improvements at neighborhood schools across the city – spending a total of $619 million in capital improvements.

Schools CEO Janice Jackson says 93% of that money will be spent on schools that serve a majority of low-income students.

For example, Morgan Park High School, where the mayor and Jackson announced this budget, is getting $23 million for a new roof, new athletic fields and new science labs.

The district says it plans to spend another $10 million to increase accessibility for people with disabilities and $85 million on improving high-speed internet access.

Another $120 million is going toward converting classrooms in 106 schools to accommodate additional full-day pre-K students.

“It’s really important today, as we roll out this budget, to make sure that not only that we have equity at the core, and we use an equity lens with every decision that we make. But to also ensure that we’re providing our students – our most vulnerable students – with the resources that they need, with the human resources, as well as financial resources,” Jackson told reporters.

To that end, the district is committing $31 million in equity grants to support 219 schools with low or declining enrollment, another $12 million for English Language Learners and $5 million to help schools interested in expanding their academic offerings to IB or STEM programming.

The total budget is $7.7 billion, $117 million over last year – that includes more than $700 million in debt service.

Jackson says to cover some of these capital projects, the district will incur some debt in the form of bonds, and we’ll learn more about that at an upcoming board meeting.

The district is planning several public hearings on the capital plan and the total budget on Aug. 20 and 21 – and the final budget will be presented to the board for a vote at its meeting on Aug. 28.

Follow Brandis Friedman on Twitter @BrandisFriedman

Related stories:

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Controversy Over School Ratings as New CPS Board Meets

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