CPS’ Cuts of Services for Special Education Students and the Behind-the-Scenes Principal Uprising that Stopped It (for now)
Overview: Who Sacrifices?
Whenever I try to take a break from writing about CPS to focus on other aspects of my professional and personal life, CPS officials do something so profoundly unethical, incompetent and/or corrupt that my conscience calls me to pick up the pen once more. This time, they’ve targeted special education students. Obscured in the latest round of CPS budget cuts is an unprecedented move to cut legally required special education services. Educators are often asked if a school based budget cut will affect students. The answer is always “yes.” Each person in a school provides a service to a group of students. When CPS decides to cut the dollars that fund a school-based position they are, in effect, taking the service away from students.
One district official was quoted in the Sun-Times stating, “CPS continues to work with our principals to prepare for these adjustments.”
“Adjustments” is CPS’ latest euphemism for cuts to student services. If they keep it up, they’re going to “adjust” students out of their education entirely. CEO Forrest Claypool often repeats a talking point that the cuts CPS will “have to make” are “unconscionable.” If one thinks the cuts are “unconscionable” then one does not give those cuts a false euphamistic name like “right-sizing.” Yes, that’s the actual term they use to describe their efforts to reduce services to special education students. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, CPS took an additional $13.3 million worth of services from CPS students with their latest “adjustments.” The article includes a spreadsheet detailing the cuts to schools across Chicago. For example, Ogden school lost five special education teachers and three special education assistants, while Austin High School lost two teachers and four assistants.
Chicago’s mayor and CPS officials often cite the need to “sacrifice” in order to “save money” as a justification for such cuts. However, all too often CPS and City Hall pretend not to see opportunities to save money by making those who can most afford it sacrifice. Instead they turn their avaricious eyes toward those who can least afford it: our students. They didn’t make the banks that swindled CPS out of $100 million sacrifice by suing them to recoup their losses; they prefer to make students sacrifice by increasing their class sizes. They didn’t makes SUPES Academy sacrifice by denying the organization a $20 million no-bid contract; they prefer to make students suffer by cutting their sports programs. They didn’t make the scores of basement dwelling for-profit charter school management organizations suffer (88% of charters are in the bottom half of CPS performance in student reading growth); instead they took funds used to provide programming for students in more successful neighborhood schools. They didn’t make Aramark and Sodexo Magic (an Emanuel campaign contributor) suffer by canceling their custodial management contracts when they failed to keep schools clean; CPS and City Hall prefer instead to make special education students sacrifice by cutting their legally required educational services.
The way the cuts to special education services were communicated was just as insidious as the cuts themselves. In order to understand this, one must (1) be familiar with the role of counselors and case managers in CPS, and (2) understand the timeline of CPS’ rollout of these cuts.
The Counselor/Case Manager
Counselors help students plan for high school and/or college. They also help students through social emotional issues they encounter in and out of school. Case managers coordinate the meetings and services for Special Education students. More importantly—in CPS—The counselor and case manager roles are done by the same person, especially in elementary schools. This is why they are referred to as “counselor/case managers.” If a special education position is cut, it is the role of the case manager to complete the appropriate paperwork to appeal the position cut. The duties of the case manager keep the school in compliance with special education law by ensuring student needs are met. The case manager role is often so time-consuming that counselor/case managers seldom have enough time left to provide adequate counseling services to students.
- 12:51pm: CPS sends a short-notice email to counselors regarding a citywide counselors meeting to take place the following Monday.
- 4:04pm: CPS sends another email to tell counselors that “Attendance is Mandatory” for the citywide counselor’s meeting.
- 4:20pm: This is the day and time politicians release information they don’t want the public to pay any attention to. CPS officials picked this day and time to send out a press release about its cuts to services for students.
- 6:01pm: CPS sends a vague email to principals (after work hours) with a link to a file that outlines the student service cuts. The email stated, “You must be connected to the CPS network” to see the file. So principals who’d left school for the day would not be able to see the document until they arrived in their schools the following Monday.
- Some principals get word of impending special education cuts and begin communicating via email about ways to stop the cuts. They decide to approach CPS directly with a list of requests. An email circulates asking principals to sign on to the requests. Within a few hours, dozens sign on.
- Principals return to work and discover the email from CPS that outlines cuts to their general staffing and—for the first time—severe cuts to their special education staffing. Such special education cuts have never happened as part of past 20th day adjustments, and have not been mentioned by CPS at all this school year.
- The above email is followed by an FAQ that states that schools have until Tuesday (the following day) to file an appeal. It mentions a “formula” CPS used to make the cuts but does not provide the formula, making it nearly impossible to write an informed appeal.
- Meanwhile, the case managers who are supposed to write the appeals are away at a “mandatory” CPS counselors meeting. To make matters worse, several networks have a case manager meeting the very next day. Remember, the counselor and case manager are the same person. So CPS conveniently scheduled all-day meetings on the only two days that case managers had to prepare their appeals to special education service cuts.
In short, CPS notified principals of the cuts to their students’ special education services one day before the appeal was due, and they scheduled mandatory meetings that would keep the case managers–who were supposed to write those appeals–out of their buildings for two days.
Principals Confront CPS Directly
Sometime on Monday, the principals who circulated the letter challenging the cuts began talks with CPS officials. They requested the following:
- A hold on all layoffs and negative “All Means All” (AMA) adjustments. (Like “Student Based Budgeting,” AMA is a CPS euphemism for yet another budgeting system that cuts school based student services. However, AMA is specific to special education students).
- A closed door meeting with CPS leadership to gain clarity on the methodology used to make these cuts.
- A longer period after the meeting with CPS leadership for principals to complete their appeal
- A ‘Individualized Staffing Plan’ that brings the principal to the table for any appeals.
A few hours later principals received an email from CEO Forrest Claypool and CEdO Janice Jackson. This email did not mention the principals’ behind-the-scenes efforts. It stated:
We also recognize that while we provided you with your school’s specific budgetary adjustments last week, we made the information public shortly thereafter.
We regret the awkward position the release of this information may have put you in with both your staff and broader school community.
The email was worded as if the lack of communication with principals was some sort of one-time mistake when, in fact, principals have become used to finding out critical information from parents who got the news from the press before it was sent to principals. In effect, CPS was apologizing for what has been their standard communication protocol. Claypool and Jackson went on to state:
We are extending the deadline to appeal for additional centrally funded positions through the Supplemental Services Review (SSR) panel process from Tuesday, September 29th to Monday, November 2nd.
We will also:
- Develop a webinar and host multiple in-person briefings with ODLSS staff on the formula used to make staffing allocations….
- Host an in-person meeting with the CEO, CEdO, and you to provide your feedback on how Central Office can help you better-manage the impact of budgetary adjustments in the future….
All of these concession were requested by the principals who organized behind the scenes, yet CPS officials did not mention those efforts. It seems as though they would rather appear to be eating humble pie than succumbing to the pressure of wise and thoughtful principals. Indeed, that is what happened: Principals made a firm and powerful request for concessions and CPS relented.
Parting Thought: “The Limits of Tyrants….”
CPS officials wrote this letter as if these concessions where their ideas when, in fact, the motivation behind the concessions was that dozens of principals organized themselves and signed their names to a document to put pressure on CPS to change its policies. These principals were living proof of Frederick Douglass’ statement:
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted…. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
It appears that principals across CPS could endure no more. I am encouraged to note that I had nothing to do with this effort except to sign on to it. Other principals in the system stood up and engaged officials in a frank and respectful discussion, and layoffs were avoided for now. It is noteworthy that these principals were not standing up for higher pay or better working conditions; they were standing up for their students. In doing so, these thoughtful and dedicated educators put limitations on CPS’ autocratic manner of doing business. Of course, CPS and City Hall will continue to push the envelope on cuts to students. Let’s hope that principals and other educators across our district will remember the lesson from the courage they’ve displayed on this issue, and that they are inspired to set even stricter limits on CPS’ efforts to undermine the education of Chicago’s children.
CPS spreadsheet detailing overall cuts and cuts to special education services.
Schlikerman, Beckey (9/25/2015). CPS enrollment down 2 percent overall, though charters up slightly. Chicago Sun-Times.
Gillers, Heather and Grotto, Jason (11/10/2014). Banks kept CPS in shaky bond market. Chicago Tribune.
Supes Academy Articles Page on Catalyst Chicago
Belsha, Kalyn (7/1/2015). 1,400 positions to be cut, special ed vancandies won’t be filled. Catalyst Chicago
Perez Jr., Juan and Dizikes, Cynthia (3/19/2015). CPS group rips “Magic” custodian deal, contributions to Emanuel campaign. Chicago Tribune.
CPS Press Release on Budget Cuts (9/25/2015, 4:20pm). “CPS Adjusts School Budgets to Reflect Actual Enrollment for School Year 2015-16.”
CPS Email to Principal regarding “10th Day Adjustments” (9/25/2015, 6:01pm).
Post-Uprising Email from CPS CEO and CEdO (9/28/2015, 3:35pm).