CPS principals respond to the misleading narrative that “principals are relieved” after avoiding “doomsday” budget cuts
What did principals say after Wednesday’s budget meeting?
“This budget will definitely have a negative impact at the classroom level.”
“The papers they gave us did not match the actual deficits when we opened our real budgets.”
“The repeated statement that the cuts are being kept ‘away from the classroom’ is maddening.”
“It’s like being in an abusive relationship.”
“They got a cookie, took a huge bite, left us the crumbs….”
“This budget is just the latest manifestation of a pattern of CPS officials creating ways to take their horrible decisions and make us responsible for them.”
An ABC7 story declared that principals were “relieved” about their budgets. This narrative is far different than the feedback the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association received from our members. “Dejected” & “Insulted” were just two of the words we heard from principals immediately after receiving their budgets. We weren’t certain whether the “relieved” or “insulted” characterization was representative of the general feeling of principals, so we sent the ABC7 story to about a dozen of them and asked the simple question:
“Does this speak for you?”
The following are their responses. Some of the responses contain strong language. I considered removing the language before publishing this post but decided instead to publish each comment as it was originally articulated. These responses represent candid unfiltered reactions to the experience of working and leading a school under the management in place at CPS.
Northside Principal #1
“No it does not. The papers they gave us did not match the actual deficits when we opened our real budgets. Special Education funds cannot mixed with General Education funds for student based budgets. Some Individual Education Plans will not be met.”
South Side Principal #1
“It’s all a spin. Sure everyone is relieved that ‘doomsday’ cuts did not occur. There still are significant cuts especially when you think of the compounded loss to the schools over the last few years with additional requirements like lunch/recess supervision and a longer school day that adds little to no benefit to the instructional day. The repeated statement that the cuts are being kept away from the classroom is maddening. Every dollar taken from a school budget directly affects the classroom.”
Northside Principal #2
Note: This comment is from a female principal, who toward the end of the first paragraph takes on the metaporical role of CPS/Male.
“It does reflect my response to the budget but it’s a bamboozled and hoodwinked response. Of course I’m happy it’s “not that bad.” I was told that it was going to be up to 40% and now it’s less. It’s like being in an abusive relationship. Instead of beating my woman down, now I’m just neglecting her and not meeting her needs. “She should be thankful. At least I didn’t beat her a**.
“They do this doomsday/broke on purpose BS all the time and it diminishes one of the best parts of the job! Being a visionary and being creative on behalf of my school, staff and students. Suburban schools started planning for next year in January! They have hired their staff. And have been preparing all summer, but because of this budget delay, I start tomorrow.
“My teachers don’t even know what they are teaching for next year. We couldn’t communicate teaching assignments for fear of cuts and consequential confusion and unnecessary bitterness amongst teachers and administration. So I had to make three plans/scenarios for next year… Bad, worse and horrible. What kind of leadership is that?????? Now I get to go make the best with what I have…. Which is still bad. So yeah. It reflects my response but it’s still inexcusable. But I can’t fight or argue about it because now I have to get to work and do 6 months of planning, hiring and preparing–in six weeks.”
Westside Principal #1
They kept saying they did not impact classrooms. It’s simply not true. We were low-balled for enrollment. The funding is about $100 less per pupil. They lumped all special education funding together with SBB. The special education funding level is based on what the school “spent” on personnel last school year minus 4% they held back for the district to support possible litigation!!??? Our difference is nearly -$200,000.00. It’s a huge cut for our school.
They kept calling it “our” money or “the principal’s” money. For example, you don’t have enough staff to meet the needs of students with IEPs, then, you have to allocate from “your” money (SBB). If you use all “your money” (SBB), then there will be some appeal process they have yet to define!!??
This budget will definitely have a negative impact at the classroom level.
Southside Principal #2
“Yes, to some extent I do feel relieved, only because I thought it would be worse than what it was. But that’s all relative when you’re in doomsday mindset. CPS is no longer paying for special education teachers. So with the little money you have, now we must budget for their salaries. So in my mind it’s a Catch-22. We have to get over another wave of s*** that CPS is throwing at us. It has been one wave after another. Year after year, principals dig through the s*** and find a way to make it work. They got a cookie, took a huge bite, left us the crumbs, and now we’re grateful!?!”
Westside Principal #2
Note: This comment references the term “hype-man” borrowed from hip-hop culture. Many hip-hop groups have a lead rapper and a “hype-man” who gets the crowd excited, and extols the virtues of the lead rapper. The most well-known hype-man was Flavor Flav of the group Public Enemy.
“They’re playing a game with us. This budget is just the latest manifestation of a pattern of CPS officials creating ways to take their horrible decisions and make us responsible for them. If you pay attention, it’s easy to see. At the law conference for example they said that any lawsuits against CPS will “have your names on it, not ours.” Then they said the costs they’re paying for the transportation of homeless students is too high because principals are giving CTA passes out to too many homeless students. They said they’re going to start “monitoring the decisions you’re making at the school level.” Then they practically told us not to even think about suspending kids; that we needed to deal with our own problems in-house, while they allow charter schools to expel kids for thinking about fighting. They’ve framed their conversation to principals as, “Are you a liability to us?” They’re getting in all these new principals and coercing them–telling them what they can and cannot do because they don’t know any better.
“They’re about to f*** over special education kids. They’re creating a way to coerce principals into not giving those kids the aid they need. They put us in a position to have to give them the least amount of services by making the budget for special education students compete with your general education funds. Special education students are typically ten percent of your students who take up 30 percent of your budget. CPS used to understand that so they kept the funds separate. Now they’re pretending not to get it. By putting the funds together, they’ve created a situation where either special education kids won’t get what they need, or general education kids will get resources taken from them to meet schools’ obligations to special education students. They’re calling the general education funds “our” money. They’re not our funds; they’re funds for our general education students; but they’re framing it that way to put us in a position to be the ones to blame when kids aren’t getting their services.
“I don’t care how you spin it. At the end of the day, I have to close a $300,000 budget gap.
“As Forrest and the Chief Financial Officer were spinning this at the budget meeting, Janice Jackson’s job was to be the hype-man. She was Forrest’s Flavor Flav. They tried to scare us and tell us “we’re going to cut both of your legs off,” and then they cut your foot off, and we’re supposed to be grateful that we didn’t lose both legs. That’s what they were doing. But, Jackson was like Flavor Flav yelling, “Yeah boy!!!! We still have one foot left! You should be happy! Go Forrest! Go Forrest! Go Forrest! Go Forrest!!!”
“The whole thing was insulting. Both legs, or one foot; either way it goes, they’ve destroyed our foundation.”
Northside Principal #3
“The budget is horrible and insulting. They are expanding IES (Instructional Effectiveness Specialists) to “help” principals evaluate teachers every now and then, but they’re making us cut our assistant principals. That’s like saying they’re cutting the police force but adding more dog catchers. Plus, CPS has plans to open 13 more charter schools, resulting in more and more chaos as classrooms close and thousands of student schedules are changed to adjust to the losses, closures, and chaos. This chaos leads to citizens losing trust in their community and government.”
Northside Principal #4
“Right now this is what I am sure of: They lowered SBB per pupil to February reduction. Lost nearly $150k again. They only gave enough funds for last year’s special education costs and then they took 4% off that amount. So if you got a position last year and hired in January you only got enough funds for that position from Jan to June even though you now need enough to fund the position for the entire year.
“I have more to say on how CPS is getting principals to do a special education self-assassination but I need more time to look at it. In a nutshell I think they will get us to reduce it a bit each year–get you to figure out ways to bleed special education to save other funding because they undercut it a little each year. They’ll get you to cut a little, then fund you next year on what you spent the year before…with another 4% holdback or so. If you fight the 4% they will tear your schedule apart to state minimum rules, which they have already shown us is possible; legal, but unethical. So everyone eats it versus taking the terrible option. That’s my initial analysis but I still need to spend more time with my budget.”
In the past month I’ve received a lot of calls from reporters asking me for my insights into why so many principals are resigning this year. The above statements provide that insight.
We need to remember that (1) CPS is spending over a half billion dollars in unnecessary new school construction (the student population in CPS is decreasing) in order to support and maintain school segregation , (2) the city has access to hundreds of millions of TIF dollars that could be used to plug its budget gaps but is instead giving it away to wealthy developers, and (3) CPS is expanding spending on privatization of custodians and engineers with companies principals have complained about for years. In the face of these facts, the decision by CPS officials to cut school funding is particularly unethical.
CPS and City Hall are wasting money on charter school expansion and unnecessary school construction, they are hiding money in TIF accounts, and have a demonstrated history of tucking federal dollars away from public view in district level accounts.
CPS does not need to find money. It needs to stop wasting money.
CPS does not need to search for funding. It needs to stop hiding the funds it has.
Our association will conduct a more thorough survey of principals in the coming week, but these preliminary responses do not bode well for our students and the educators who dedicate their professional lives to serving them. Our school district deserves representative governance and competent, responsible, and ethical management. The decisions of CPS management represented in the above comments demonstrate just how far we are from achieving that reality.
Those who want to contribute to the work of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association can send their contributions to the address below. Thank you.
Chicago Principals & Administrators Association
20 North Wacker Drive, Suite 1545, Chicago, IL 60606