Chicago Public Schools face future financial issues

By Editorial Board

The Chicago School Board recently approved a nearly $6 billion budget for

2012 that closes the current revenue gap but does not plan for the $860 million deficit Chicago Public Schools officials expect by 2014.

The new budget promises $100 million in not-yet-determined administrative cuts, which is a good place to start. But officials need to maintain transparency with the public about when and in what form these cuts will come if they want to preserve any confidence Chicago citizens still have in their decision-making abilities.

Furthermore, any future cuts beyond administrative costs need to be focused on areas that can afford to be reduced. This means costs from thing like books, technological upgrades and teachers’ salaries should always be some of the last things looked at.

The budget also includes a property tax increase of 2.4 percent levied on most private property owners in Chicago. That translates to roughly $84 extra per year for a typical $250,000 home. The current economy might be cause to fear any tax hike, but this amount seems reasonable to ask of taxpayers to help fund the education of our children. It is important for CPS to remember in future budget planning, however, that not all homeowners have children in the public school system, and tax increases should not be the only way to boost revenues.

The Chicago Teachers Union should also take more initiative in contributing ideas and suggestions to budget talks. Having such an important role in education, specifically one that is constantly being put at risk by cuts, teachers should want to help solve financial issues perhaps even more than administrators.

As reported in this issue of The Chronicle, CPS will be spending $7 million this year to upgrade security systems in 14 schools around Chicago. The safety of students is obviously a primary concern and should always be top tier. But when there’s a looming deficit of nearly a billion dollars, it is hard to justify spending so much on high-tech cameras when some schools are in need of such vital educational resources as books and teachers.

While it is commendable that CPS has a balanced plan for the year, there are still major concerns looming. The School Board and administrators should now focus on alleviating future budget concerns and structural issues. With a long-term plan, CPS and its administration can get back to what they are there for—providing for students to the best of their abilities.