Chicago Tribune: CPS to receive larger budgets for teacher salaries, programs

Chicago Public Schools campuses will split roughly $60 million in additional funding next school year, an increase district officials said will largely finance unionized teacher salary increases and some new programs.

The district announced Tuesday that schools will see a total of $3.1 billion in the 2018-19 school year, and the district continues to compose the rest of its multibillion-dollar budget for the coming fiscal year.

CPS said the amount of money schools receive for each enrolled student will jump by 2.5 percent. That corresponds with a cost-of-living salary increase in the latest Chicago Teachers Union contract.

But the district said it also was boosting funding for low-income students and creating a fund to support schools that have been battered by dwindling enrollment.

Principals will see their budgets for next school year on Tuesday, several months earlier than in recent years, allowing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration to project an image of relative fiscal stability at CPS after years of budget crises delayed a critical planning process until just weeks before the start of school.

Emanuel and CPS CEO Janice Jackson both praised the district’s finances this week, after one prominent bond ratings agency said there was a chance it might upgrade its junk-level view of the district’s debt in the coming year.

S&P Global Ratings largely credited that potential improvement to a better cash flow, new money the district receives from Illinois’ revamped education funding formula, and state laws that devote new state and local tax revenue to shoring up the city’s half-funded teacher pension system.

“Seven years ago, we inherited a school district with shaky finances that struggled with legacy pension costs and today Chicago Public Schools is on much stronger financial ground because of our collective efforts — especially working with the General Assembly to pass historic school funding reform,” Emanuel said in a statement.

CPS enjoyed A-level bond ratings from three prominent firms as recently as 2013.

Less aggressive investment return estimates also have carved an additional $1 billion hole in the severely underfunded pension system for Chicago teachers, reviving questions about how a retirement plan for tens of thousands of public workers can survive without additional money from taxpayers.

Consultants for the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund now conclude the system is about $11 billion in the red and faces an even steeper climb to comply with a state law that requires it to be 90 percent funded by 2059, financial documents show.

Some of the biggest school budget changes are in store for campuses with limited enrollment. Schools will be paid based on enrollment from this school year, as opposed to the previous policy of using the enrollment on the 20th day of classes of the budgeted year.

CPS said roughly $10 million will be reserved for 129 low-enrollment schools to ensure they can keep teachers or maintain after-school programs.

“Every child deserves to attend a school that has the resources, programming and supports needed to ensure students reach their full potential,” CPS Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade said in a statement. “By allocating an additional $10 million to support schools that have struggled with enrollment decline, we will help ensure that schools in every neighborhood can offer students a robust education that prepares them for success long after high school graduation.”

Another $14 million extra will be spent on low-income students from additional state funding, according to CPS.

The district said it also would provide $5 million in “supplemental funding” for schools that would have otherwise lost more than 3 percent of their student-based funds.

The district also will return to a past method of assigning schools specific numbers of special education teachers and paraprofessionals, instead of allocating a set amount of money to cover the cost of those jobs.

Giving schools money to pay for special education, as opposed to simply providing principals with an exact number of positions, was one of a series of sweeping changes to special education spending that sparked parent rancor and an ongoing public inquiry from the Illinois State Board of Education.

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