Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chicago schools to Springfield: We need $180 million

From Crain's...
Chicago Public Schools officials said Thursday they need an additional $180 million in state aid to balance the fiscal 2009 budget. But they stopped short of threatening to shut schools, lay off teachers or take other severe steps if the money doesn’t arrive.

In a news conference that provided the first peek at finances for fiscal 2009, which starts in September, schools CEO Arne Duncan said the system faces a hole of $340 million in its $5-billion budget — mostly due to rising costs, but also because of a few new spending initiatives.

Mr. Duncan said he’s already identified $90 million in achievable administrative cuts, partly by shrinking support staff to mirror declining enrollment. CPS would take in $50 million from drawing down reserves and $20 million in proceeds from a higher property tax. That leaves a potential shortfall of $180 million.

Mr. Duncan called on state lawmakers to “step up and do the right thing.”

Arguing that Illinois pays a smaller share of the local school bill than almost any other state, Mr. Duncan said legislators and Gov. Rod Blagojevich — who rarely agree on much of anything — need to “find the political courage to put education on the agenda.”

Mr. Duncan conceded that won’t be easy, given that the state faces severe fiscal problems of its own with a reported $600-million to $700-million deficit in this year’s budget.

But Chicago schools have worked hard to raise student test scores and physically rebuild schools, and the system has operated for 25 years without a teachers’ strike, he said.

Chicago schools got an additional $130 million in state aid last year. The city system generally gets about 20% of the state’s school dollar, so boosting Chicago aid by $180 million would imply a $900-million increase statewide, an unlikely figure without some major new state revenue source.

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