LITTLE VILLAGE — With a wave of teacher cuts possible as soon as this week, dozens of Chicago Teachers Union representatives, school faculty and local political leaders rallied in Little Village Tuesday to slam the school district’s proposed budget and plead for additional COVID-19 relief money.
School teachers and union representatives said they expected administrators to start releasing “organizational charts” as soon as Wednesday detailing jobs that will be eliminated in the upcoming school year due to the budget constraints.
CPS has proposed spending more overall in the 2022-23 school year but critics have blasted the district for proposing broad school-level budget cuts, with Little Village hit particularly hard. The district has since restored some of that funding; around 23 percent of schools now are slated for cuts.
Little Village Academy special education teacher Pablo Vega said he expected the tight budget to lead to the loss of five teachers at his school. Gary Elementary school teacher Carmencita Perez said budget cuts at her school could lead to a loss of nine teachers, including the school librarian and art teacher.
The librarian helps run the school’s literacy program for its approximately 800 students, according to Perez.
“This is a primarily bilingual school,” Ms. Perez said, giving remarks in both Spanish and English. “Our students need this money, and it’s being cut.”
The Chicago Public School District released its preliminary FY2023 budget in March, announcing an overall $139 million year-to-year increase in school funding and touting investments in teacher support, as well as two additional professional development days for staff. But enrollment is down 10,000 students across the district.
The district is scheduled to release its complete budget later this summer, which will be voted on by the school board.
In an email statement, a CPS spokesman said that the district prioritized funding for more than 200 schools with declining enrollment, including $5 million to protect 68 schools with “severe enrollment declines,” and touted an overall increase in per-pupil funding. They added that Little Village schools would specifically receive district funding for summer programming, professional development and student devices that normally came out of the school budgets.
“We spend more on Black and Latinx children,” the statement said. “The average per-pupil funding is increasing from $10,737 this year to $11,487 next year.”
But data shows schools in the predominantly Latino Little Village neighborhood has the second most drastic cuts of any neighborhood.
Little Village schools lost nearly one-fifth of their students during the pandemic, leading to a proposed loss of $2.7 million in funding, according to Chalkbeat. Gary Elementary will lose around $400,000 from its budget, while Little Village Academy will lose around $114,000, according to a Chalkbeat analysis.
In response, the Chicago Teachers Union has pushed for the district to use money from federal Covid-19 relief packages to preserve the school funding. Union representatives said at Tuesday’s rally that CPS was sitting on $1.4 billion in funds that remain unallocated. They also blasted the schools board recent decision to take on $170 million in pension payments, saying that money should go to students.
“[CPS] is taking money from federal support dollars that were supposed to support students in need during the pandemic, and using it to pay for the city’s unpaid pension debt,” CTU president Jesse Sharkey said at Tuesday’s rally. “The schools are once again being used as a piggy bank to support bad financial choices the city … has made over the past decades.”
In their statement, CPS said that they have directed approximately 40 percent of the district’s $2.8 billion ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds to pay for additional school-level staff and air filtration systems for every classroom, among other things. The statement did not address specific questions regarding upcoming teacher layoffs and the use of the other relief funds.
CTU spokesperson Chris Geovanis did not have exact numbers for the expected amount of total teachers cut based on the budget.
At Tuesday’s rally, teachers from other neighborhood schools, including Crown Academy — a North Lawndale school that is facing a proposed 17 percent budget cut — as well as Hammond Elementary, stood in solidarity with the Little Village teachers, holding signs demanding that CPS “Free The Funds.”
Local political leaders, including State Sen. Celina Villanueva, Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya and Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) said the budget cuts are particularly devastating for a neighborhood among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m frustrated. And I’m mad,” Villanueva said. “When the administration of the public schools isn’t fighting to make sure that we restore those cuts, we have an issue, because the pandemic in our community has gone on a lot longer, way before COVID.”
Vega said Little Village Academy has seen an influx of Spanish-speaking students from Central America, many of whom need additional resources that are threatened by the proposed budget.
“They don’t even know the letters. We need to spend time one-on-one with them to learn the basics,” Vega said. “With this cut, some of the rooms will have to be merged, so I don’t know what’s going to happen to these bilingual students and the services they need and require.”
The rally took place at 3:30 p.m. — just after schools in the neighborhood let out for the day. Perez, a middle school science and math teacher who lives in the area, said she was the parent of nine former CPS students, as well as grandmother to 13 current kids in CPS, including two at Gary. The school year ends June 14th. But with the teacher cuts looming, she can only look so far ahead.
“It’s affecting my life as a teacher. It’s affecting my life as a parent. It’s affecting me as a community person,” she said. “We need to get this money back.”
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