Chicago schools pass $7.5 billion budget despite calls to halt vote

On Wednesday, the Chicago Board of Education voted to pass Chicago Public Schools’ $7.5 billion budget for the 2018-2019 school year, despite calls from parents, students, activists, and community organizations to halt the vote.

The budget encompasses a $5.98 billion operating plan that charts out spending on schools and central office administration, plus a $1 billion capital proposal that relies heavily on bonds to fund building repairs and upgrades, updated science labs, new annexes, and new schools. The remainder includes $600 million to pay down the district’s $8 billion debt load. Chalkbeat Chicago broke down the total budget here and analyzed the tension between overall declining enrollment and new school investment here.

The district has touted its $5.98 billion operations budget as good news and a sign of CPS’ improving fiscal health. It includes 5 percent more funds thanks to a revamp of the state’s school funding formula and an increase from local tax revenue, and $60 million more pumped into schools compared with last year’s budget.

School district officials at a meeting Wednesday said the budget was a step in the right direction.  “We believe these capital investments promote equity throughout the district,” Jackson said.

Of the 60 scheduled speakers for public comment at the hearing, about one-third signed up to speak about budget topics or CPS’ financial decision-making in general.

Jose Requena, a parent at Richard Edwards Elementary School in Archer Heights, said that his school received an annex in 2016, but only through intense political pressure from Ald. Ed Burke. He called for the board to pump breaks on the budget vote.

“These budgets are political budgets,” he said.

Christine Dussault, a teacher at Chase Elementary School in Logan Square, said her school suffers from a leaky roof and malfunctioning heating and air conditioning systems.

“These circumstances make it extremely hard to provide a world-class education that we’re committed to providing,” she said, noting how when she attended last week’s capital budget hearing at Truman College, she was “overwhelmed by story after story that were similar to how I was feeling about my own school.”

Dussault said she’d like to see a more “transparent, fair, and equitable process” moving forward.

Board Vice President Jaime Guzman said that the district does “have dollars to do things here, but it’s never enough.” One of the main takeaways he got from Wednesday’s meeting was that people were frustrated with “opaque decision-making.”

“I know it’s complicated from funding strains and needs,” he said, “but I just want us to think clearly about how we can be more transparent with folks.”

The board voted unanimously to pass the budget.

To read more budget analysis from Chalkbeat Chicago, click here to find out about the district’s new chief equity officer and click here to read about the district’s investment in classical education.