Board of Ed to vote on $5.1 billion budget

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • August 26, 2008 @ 4:02 PM

The Chicago Board of Education will consider approving a record $5.1 billion operating budget at its regular monthly meeting Wednesday.

The budget allocates $100 million in reserve funds to cover teacher salary increases, pensions and increases in health-care costs. The reserve funds means property taxes won't have to be raised, according to a CPS statement.

Under state law, the budget must be approved tomorrow.

An additional $1 billion is targeted for capital projects, including new construction, which would bring the total proposed appropriation to $6.157 billion.

Wednesday's board meeting is open to the public, and public comment is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m (sign-up is from 8 to 9 a.m.). The regular meeting begins at about 12:30 p.m., followed by a closed-door executive session. Board of Education meetings are held at the CPS Central Office downtown, 125 S. Clark.

The budget approval comes at a time when the level of school funding by the state has been questioned not only by Chicago Public Schools officials but also by a group of city pastors, parents and community residents led by state Sen. James Meeks (D-Calumet City).

A week-long boycott of school next week has been called for by Meeks, the pastor of Chicago's Salem Baptist Church, as a way to create more attention to educational funding. CPS officials oppose the boycott, and twice have taken to the streets in door-to-door campaigns to ensure students are in school next Tuesday, the first day of the school year.

Last year's operating budget was $4.9 billion, which is $200 million less than the budget proposed for this year.

The new budget contains $16 million to add 18 high schools to the High School Transformation Plan, which is a program focused on aligning the core curriculum at all city high schools and better preparing students for college. Twenty-five high schools are already a part of the program.

"We had to make some tough decisions to balance the budget this year, but we cannot cut back on classroom learning," says schools chief Arne Duncan. "The IDS (instructional development system) strategy is creating a strong learning environment for students and this year we want thousands of additional students benefiting from a more rigorous curriculum that better prepares them for college and work and success."

If approved, CPS officials say, the transformation plan would reach 25,000 students this year. By the end of this year, more than 1,300 teachers will have gone through teacher training for the transformation program. Both turnaround high schools, Orr on the West Side and Harper on the South Side, will be a part of the transformation program.

The program has been in place since 2006. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has contributed $24 million of the $53 million spent on the program.

Also Wednesday, the board is expected to approve the closing of Englewood Academy and the opening of Westinghouse High School, 3223 W. Franklin Blvd., in fall 2009 as a selective-enrollment school. The board is also expected to re-appoint board president Rufus Williams to the Public Building Commission of Chicago.

CPS Board of Education meeting

  • When: 10:30 a.m. Wednesday
  • Where: CPS Central Office, 125 S. Clark.
  • Public sign-up: 8-9 a.m.

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.