Chicago Public Schools proposes .9 billion budget amid mounting fiscal pressures
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Chicago Public Schools proposes $9.9 billion budget amid mounting fiscal pressures

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Chicago Public Schools has proposed a $9.9 billion budget for the next school year that will close a deficit of about half a billion dollars, mostly by cutting central office spending — but it does not yet include raises for teachers and principals whose unions are negotiating new contracts with the district.

According to a news release from the district, the proposed budget includes a $149 million increase in school funding, which comes from a $62 million increase in funding for services for students with disabilities, as well as increased funding for charter schools and bilingual services.

The jump in the capital spending plan — to $611 million — accounts for almost all of the overall budget increase from last year’s $9.4 billion budget. In last year’s budget, district leaders budgeted an unusually low $155 million for buildings and put most projects on hold while they developed a long-term infrastructure plan.

CPS said it closed the budget gap by cutting $197 million across central office departments, including academic and operating costs. It also tapped additional federal and other grants, restructured debt and reduced short-term borrowing costs, and reduced central office staff.

Budget data shows the district is proposing to eliminate 37 positions it describes as “city student support,” seven central office staff members and a school administrator. The central office hiring freeze will affect 200 positions, according to a spokesperson. Meanwhile, the district is adding another 800 positions in schools for the fall, including about 500 teachers.

“This budget very clearly puts teaching and learning front and center, where they belong,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement.

In a strongly worded statement, the Chicago Teachers Union criticized the budget proposal, calling Martinez’s leadership “inadequate.” It accused him of prioritizing an image of “fiscal responsibility” and of missing “the opportunities for partnership and transformation that the ongoing negotiations” with the union present, though it did not specify what those opportunities might be. This spring, Martinez and union leaders traveled to Springfield to lobby state lawmakers for additional funding, but the push yielded only a fraction of the dollars CPS had requested.

“As we review this budget proposal, it is clear that CPS leadership has failed to take steps to ensure our students and their families have what they need to dream, succeed, and thrive,” CTU President Stacy Davis Gates said in a statement.

The details released by CPS on Wednesday mark the first time the district has shared dollar amounts and comparisons to previous spending for its proposed budget. The proposal comes as the district faces mounting financial and political pressures. And it likely will have to be revised as district officials reach new contract agreements with the Chicago Teachers Union and the principals’ union, and teacher salary and benefit costs are finalized.

The district revised its deficit forecast from nearly $400 million to $505 million due to rising health care costs and spending for students with disabilities.

Over the past four years, CPS has benefited from $2.8 billion in federal COVID aid. A Chalkbeat analysis from earlier this year found that about 7% of school budgets were supported by federal COVID dollars. The proposed budget released Wednesday allocates the remaining $233 million to COVID aid.

And earlier this year, CPS unveiled a controversial new process for allocating money to each of its 500 campuses. It replaces the previous student-based budgeting system with a system that focuses on entry-level staff positions. It uses an opportunity index — a metric that combines student demographics, neighborhood characteristics and other factors — to calculate those extra dollars.

Officials said the approach has led to more equitable budgets across the city. But some magnet and selective enrollment programs have said they have ended up with tighter budgets, making it harder to continue their signature programs.

The budget released by the district on Wednesday comes about a month later than usual in the cycle and after the start of the fiscal year. Martinez said that because of the new approach to school budgeting, officials wanted to take the extra time to double-check their work and communicate with campuses and others.

The district said Wednesday that enrollment grew by more than 4,700 students over the past school year to about 328,000 students. Enrollment rose slightly last fall with the arrival of thousands of migrant families after a decade of steep declines.

The district said Wednesday that compared to last year, it is serving 12,000 more students who do not have a permanent home, 10,000 more students learning English and 4,000 more students with disabilities.

In late May, the district released school budget data, but it included only the number of staff positions, not monetary amounts like in previous years, making it difficult to compare to the 2023-2024 school year.

District officials have promised to keep school funding steady or even increase it, saying it is key to maintaining the momentum of a post-pandemic learning recovery, especially in reading, for which Chicago has won some national recognition.

Union negotiations pose another obstacle to the draft budget.

In the past, the school board has voted on an amended budget after reaching a contract. Earlier this month, the union held a news conference to condemn the layoffs of about 330 support staff it represents, even though the district promised to rehire them and about 270 other laid-off staff for positions at other campuses or pay their salaries for the upcoming school year.

In an email update to parents this week, Martinez said CPS is reviewing more than 700 proposals submitted by the teachers union in April. But he indicated there are no specific agreements, beyond a memorandum of understanding guaranteeing support staff positions or pay. The district’s previous contract with teachers expired at the end of June.

The district said Wednesday it will adjust its budget to include additional personnel costs after reaching an agreement with the teachers union and the recently formed principals union.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget at its regular meeting July 25. The district will hold hearings on both the general and capital budgets next week.

The article was co-authored by Reema Amin.

Mila Koumpilova is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago covering Chicago Public Schools. Contact Mila at [email protected].