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CPS plans to shift cash, give principals spending power

Over the next few days, principals will be given their school budgets and will find that they have more decision-making power and more money to spend on instruction. But there’s a catch: Their budgets may include less money for other expenses.

Officials said that principals will be given an additional $130 million in discretionary money. More than half of that money will come from planned but still-undetermined cuts in district operations. In a budget presentation at the April Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley said that he and his team are scrutinizing the procurement process to find these savings.

The rest of the new discretionary dollars—about $50 million--will come from shifting money from centrally-operated programs. But CPS officials declined to specify which programs will be eliminated and how much additional money each school will get.

As an example of programs that could be eliminated, Cawley pointed to college coaches, who are not certified counselors but are charged with taking students on college tours and helping them fill out financial aid forms.  Under former CEO Arne Duncan, these coaches were lauded for helping improve the district’s college-going rate.

Encouraging innovation

In another switch, the district will no longer provide money on a line-item basis for resources like supplies and textbooks. Instead, that money will be dumped into the discretionary pot.

“If a principal wants to, they can use their discretionary money for it,” Cawley said. “But this gives them flexibility to figure out the best way to spend it.”

CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said principals can be more innovative under this new approach. “As a principal, I wanted more flexibility so I could be creative,” he said.

Area network officers will help principals decide what to spend their money on.

The school-level budgets are always important because they tell principals how many students the district expects them to have, how many staff they will be given--and whether they should plan to lay off staff or post job ads.

But this year, the budgets will be even more telling. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and district leadership must do a balancing act: They are imposing a longer school day, while at the same time facing a budget deficit that they project at $600 million to $700 million. Critics of the longer day argue that schools need more money to fill the extra time with art and music class--and even staff to supervise recess.

“To simply add time will not benefit the children,” said Rebecca Malone, a mother who is part of a group called 19th Ward Parents and who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting. “Do not ask schools to be creative to fill a longer day.”

Cawley told board members that he and his team have not figured out how they will balance the budget and did not specify whether there will be any extra money for a longer school day.  However, it is clear that district officials expect principals to use the increase in discretionary dollars to pay for additional programming—even though the increase is based on cuts elsewhere.

Principals have long complained that too much of their school budget is tied up with mandatory expenses. Yet if they end up with less money overall, they will forced to make tough decisions and take the blame for program cuts made by district leaders.

Cawley said CPS is behind other school districts in terms of giving principals more discretion over their budgets. Previous administrations unsuccessfully tried to move toward per-pupil budgeting, which would give principals total discretion.


AgainstTheLongestDay wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Principals Budget

This plays into CPS' plan perfectly: they give the principals control over their own budgets but those budgets are lower than ever; so what will happen? The principals will be faced with an impossible task and CPS has washed their hands of it and who gets the blame? THE PRINCIPALS!

xian wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Real talk

"Cawley told board members that he and his team have not figured out how they will balance the budget"

Yeah, we've had a business-led district for 17 years, and they still can't figure out how to balance budget between the bank payments, patronage contracts and magic bullet programs.

Here's what I would do:
Start with the minimum budget to provide decent class sizes and a teacher in every room. Add basic food and transportation costs, instructional materials, and building upkeep and maintenance. Add research based assessment, retention, restorative justice programs. And continue.

Then if you still have some money left, do some long-term facilities maintenance. Maybe pay for an experimental school or program like a charter.

Then pay your bank bills or don't. Maybe they could share some sacrifice for once like those of us who actually help kids and have been fired in recent years.

veteran wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

What will happened to special

What will happened to special education funds that are dumped into this pot? These are state and federal funds which must be spent on students with disabilities.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Children First Principal: We will be given no choice but to cut

programs and teachers and raise class size. CPS skims schools with per pupil budgeting--at other schools with this, CPS has had to make up the position loss from its CPS pocket. Schools will now be forced to use their poverty funds to just get regular teachers in the classroom. Good-bye to art, computer, gym, library, music. Brizzard is not giving any more freedom to principals here-when you will have the same costs as last FY but with less money. Breaks my heart. A devil's sale. Bad business this.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago


" Let them eat cake"

Mr. Chips wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

The Old Shell Game

Rahm plays it so well. Brizzard is his shill. And the principals, teachers, taxpayers, and ultimately the children, are the pigeons. Disgusting!

I say fire the CBOE, close down CPS central office, and give the principals and their LSCs true autonomy.

Missing money wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

where is the $$$$

fund balance with the result being a general operating fund balance of $740 million or an increase of $316 million over the prior year.
The General Operating Fund ended FY2011 with a surplus of $316 million, which compared very favorably with the budgeted deficit of $245 million.


do the math: $245 million budgeted deficit and surplus of $316 million means a net of $561 million more than budget. Half a billion dollars vanished since December 2011. Now that something that should be looked into.

Rod Estvan wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Special education funds

Veteran writes: "What will happened to special education funds that are dumped into this pot? These are state and federal funds which must be spent on students with disabilities."

If all special education funds at the school level were to be made discretionary and could be used for any teaching positions, CPS would face losing its federal and state special education funding. I have heard nothing that would indicate CPS is proposing doing that, if veteran has I would like that information. I do believe CPS should be given the power by the State to use special education funds to pay for part of the salaries of cross certified teachers who actually can deliver special education services in a general education classroom. Currently that is not allowed.

The greatest current threat to funding for CPS students with disabilities comes not from within CPS, from either Mr. Cawley or Mr. Brizard, it comes from the Republicans in the Illinois General Assembly. On Monday Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno made comments at a luncheon meeting of the City Club of Chicago that pose a real threat to funding the education of disabled children in Chicago.

She raised concern about proposals coming from the Speaker of the House, the Governor, and the President of the Senate to shift $1 billion in pension costs from the state onto local school districts outside Chicago. She then said: "Frankly, the issue is a lot more complex than that, particularly the equity issue. What we have to look at is the total funding for education that goes in to the city of Chicago, Chicago is treated differently in a number of areas, in fact, favorably in a number of areas relative to downstate and suburban schools, and those need to be addressed at the same time there's any discussion about a shift in responsibility for pension costs."

Senator Radogno is targeting CPS special education funding in the form of its existing block grant and is effectively asking that CPS go to a claim form system if the suburban/downstate teacher pension system funding is changed. This would likely result in a reduction of funding of at least $200 million a year for CPS.

Rod Estvan

Sick & Tired wrote 2 years 37 weeks ago

Mayor Mini-manuel

"The district still faces a $600 to $700 million deficit this coming school year." hahahaha!!! Maybe the mayor will get the extra money from those private investors he's trying to push down the throats of the city council. This report shows that the mayor really doesn't have a clue what he's doing and what sounded good at first is starting to look like crap. The funny thing is if he comes up with the extra money to fund the longer day, he'd damn better well come up with the extra money to pay teachers their increase in pay.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 27 weeks ago

Principals do take liberties with special Ed dollars

I am starting a blog with my recent experience with the North River Elementary principal and what he has done with his unfettered discretion over special Ed money. Please read and share comments.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 27 weeks ago

Dr. Sanchez

I am very surprised as Gilbert worked in Central Office as a special education administrator. He was passionate about following the tenets of the law and was articulate about the then-new Corey H Settlement Case.
Do people change that much over the years?

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